The American Association for the Advancement of Science, or AAAS, on Nov. 25 named 338 new fellows, including Pew biomedical scholars James Bliska (1994), M. Bishr Omary (1989), and Richard Padgett (1986). AAAS fellows are selected based on their demonstrated efforts to advance science or its applications.More info
|"What most people might not know, however, is that HSV-1 can also infect the eye, leading to serious problems like blindness, and can even spread to the brain."|
Q: What led you to become a scientist?
Esteban Engel: Ever since I was a kid, I questioned everything I saw, and at times overwhelmed my family with my inquisitiveness. I was eager to understand the origin of things and how they worked. In fact, I used to disassemble and attempt to reassemble all kinds of stuff, including stereos, TVs, cars, and computers. I even studied insects up close. So biological sciences seemed to be a natural fit with my curiosity and interests.
Q: What were the difficulties in pursuing a science career in Chile?
Esteban Engel: There is still a big difference in funding and research diversity between Chile and the United States. For example, only a handful of researchers are working in my field—virology—in Chile, and although they are very good and productive, there is a need for a bigger scientific community and more resources.
I was lucky enough to finish my Ph.D. at very good institutions in Chile. Fundación Ciencia y Vida and Andrés Bello University were great in terms of funding and infrastructure. My Ph.D. mentor, Dr. Pablo Valenzuela, gave me plenty of freedom to pursue my research.
Q: What made you decide to apply to Pew’s Latin American Fellows Program and seek additional training in the United States?
Esteban Engel: As a graduate student, I was fortunate enough to travel for international meetings and participate in an internship abroad. These experiences convinced me that I had to emigrate at some point in my career to gain insight and expertise in research areas that are not explored in Chile. Living abroad has been a mind-expanding experience not only science-wise, but also in exposing me to different cultures, languages, and diversity.
When I was seeking postdoctoral funding in the United States, I realized that a very limited number of fellowships were available for international researchers. I learned about the Pew fellowship for Latin American scientists from colleagues in Chile. They were impressed with the program, so I knew that I had to apply.
Esteban Engel: I am currently working with clinical strains of herpes simplex virus type 1, or HSV-1, which is a human pathogen. Most people know HSV-1 as the causative agent of cold sores, which is a rather minor problem. What most people might not know, however, is that HSV-1 can also infect the eye, leading to serious problems like blindness, and can even spread to the brain. Although this rarely happens, it causes severe damage that can lead to lethal encephalitis.
Once the virus reaches the central nervous system, or CNS, it is exceedingly difficult to treat with the drugs currently available. It is not fully understood why the virus usually stays in the peripheral nervous system when the CNS is only one synapse away. HSV-1 efficiently replicates and spreads through synaptically connected neurons in both directions. My goal is to understand the viral and host mechanisms that control such a precise spread. Learning about the way it travels through the nervous system could allow the design of a vaccine or more effective anti-viral drugs. Additionally, many laboratories around the world use the fluorescent versions of the virus we have developed in Dr. Enquist’s lab to trace and decipher the hardwiring of the nervous system connections.
Q: What attracted you to your current research?
Esteban Engel: I did my Ph.D. in plant pathology, and for my postdoc I decided I was ready to switch gears and work in something completely new to me. I wanted to learn more about animal virology, so I started to search for laboratories in that field. When I opened the Enquist lab Web page and saw microscopy movies of fluorescent viral particles moving in and between live neurons, that blew my mind! I immediately felt attracted to his laboratory even though I knew nothing about neurons or animal viruses. Lynn Enquist has been a terrific and supportive mentor in the last two years—I could not have chosen any better!
Q: What has it meant to be a Pew Latin American fellow?
Esteban Engel: It’s been a world of difference and a huge peace of mind to have my own funds during two years of my postdoc. I feel very fortunate to have such a prestigious fellowship and also to meet very talented colleagues in the annual Pew meetings. The Pew fellowship is well known in Chile. It affords me the funding support to start my own lab when I move back. This is a great deal of help, especially early on, when it is hard to get competitive grants.
Since 1985, Pew’s biomedical programs have been supporting promising beginning researchers in the health sciences—particularly young investigators with innovative approaches and ideas. This article is the fourth in a "Biomedical Researcher of the Month" series highlighting Pew’s biomedical programs.
- Date added:
- Apr 18, 2013
On November 25, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) named 338 new Fellows, including 1998 Pew Latin American fellow Alejandro Aballay.More info
Gregory Amberg, a 2010 Pew scholar and assistant professor of biomedical sciences at Colorado State University, has won a $1.8 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to study how high blood pressure develops in people with obesity. With the five-year award, Amberg hopes to identify the underlying causes for the cardiovascular disease, with the aim of developing therapies to prevent its organ-damaging effects.More info
Manu Prakash, a 2013 Pew scholar and assistant professor of bioengineering at Stanford University, has been awarded a Grand Challenges Explorations Grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. As one of 81 winners selected from more than 2,700 proposals, Prakash’s team will develop an inexpensive electromagnetic detection device to diagnose infections of parasitic worms in people.More info
2012 Pew Latin American Fellow Natalia Martin studies the molecular mechanisms underlying innate immunity—the body’s first, non-specific line of defense against invading pathogens.More info
Natalia Martin, Ph.D., a 2012 Pew Latin American fellow, is working to understand how the nervous and immune systems influence each other when organisms respond to infection.More info
June Round, a 2013 Pew scholar and assistant professor of Pathology at the University of Utah, has been awarded the 2013 Packard Fellowship in Science and Engineering. As one of 16 scientists selected to receive the $875,000 grant, Round will focus her research on bacteria in the gut—working to identify strategies to kill the disease-causing kind while maintaining “good” kind.More info
Deborah Hung, a 2007 Pew scholar, was featured in a podcast by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America called “Changing the way we think about antibiotics”. As an assistant professor at the Richard B. Simches Research Center at Massachusetts General Hospital, Hung’s work explores new avenues to treat and diagnose infectious diseases like tuberculosis.More info
This month, the Nobel Prize in Chemistry was announced, directing global attention to the importance of chemical studies. The winners—Martin Karplus, Michael Levitt, and Arieh Warshel—were recognized for developing some of the first computer models for complex systems of molecules.More info
Winrich Freiwald, a 2010 Pew scholar and assistant professor at The Rockefeller University, is one of seven scientists receiving $1.5 million for cutting-edge neuroscience research as he establishes his laboratory. Past awardees include Vanessa Ruta, a 2012 Pew scholar and assistant professor at Rockefeller.More info
"The Pew Charitable Trusts last March named Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering Qiaobing Xu a Pew Scholar for his biomedical research on a new method of promoting nerve growth."More info
Mark Andermann, a 2013 Pew Scholar and assistant professor at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, conducts innovative research to determine the changes in the brain triggered by hunger and external food cues. Watch the video to learn more about how his work is shedding light on obesity and eating disorders.More info
The Daily Californian ran an article covering the research of Diana Bautista, a 2009 Pew scholar and assistant professor at University of California, Berkeley, who led in research discovering a way to relieve the itch of eczema and ward off some of its worst symptoms. The study, published in Cell, demonstrated that blocking the activity of nerve cells in the skin could stop the itch and inflammation associated with the condition—which affects 10 percent of the population.More info