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Luana is a DPhil student in Eric O’Neill’s lab in collaboration with Francis Szele (DPAG).

Here, Luana talks about her research project and the challenges involved, gives us an insight into her international career journey so far, and discusses her love for teaching and her experience of tutoring for the UNIQ programme. 

What topics are you pursuing in the lab?

My research involves understanding the mechanisms that regulate the maintenance of neural and glioma stem cell populations, specifically the cues that allow a switch from proliferation towards differentiation and tissue commitment. I am currently investigating the role of the protein lectin Galectin-3 and the scaffold protein RASSF1A in this process. We hope to understand whether these protein pathways can be targeted to combat the glioma stem cell pool, which impairs response to treatment.

 Are there any challenges involved?

There are many challenges throughout a PhD, but it has allowed me to professionally grow, taking responsibility for my scientific life and learning how to deal with inherent frustrations. The project is challenging mainly because it involves working with stem cells, which are very delicate and quite new to me. At the same time it is very exciting to see the model working. 

Why does your research matter?

Glioblastomas, the most aggressive type of glioma, have low incidence but poor prognosis. Although extensive research has been made over the past few years, the treatment for this type of brain cancer hasn’t changed since 2005, and tumour recurrence is a major problem. We believe that the glioma stem cell pool present in these patients are partially responsible, and we aim to find ways to target them.

What’s a typical day like in the lab?

The days will vary according to the experiments, but my regular day in the lab involves a lot of planning and studying to best utilise my cells. This year I have particularly enjoyed supervising a master’s student, discussing experiments and results while providing some guidance. And of course there are tea breaks, which is something I have learnt to appreciate in England!

 Tell us about your career so far. 

I am very fortunate to be part of a small percentage of people that have had access to higher education in Brazil; one of the greatest experiences and opportunities of my life. I did my degree in the Sao Paulo State University (UNESP), receiving a bachelor and teaching degree for biology in 2012 and 2013 respectively. At that time I learnt so much about biology and the importance of science for our society. After my undergrad studies, I completed my master’s degree in the A.C. Camargo Cancer Center, which helped me realise that I wanted to pursue cancer research as my field of expertise. 

Is there any support from others which you have particularly valued?

I’ve had invaluable help from so many people along the way, from family and close friends to academic mentors; it would take more than 60 seconds to list them all! Their help has, and continues to, inspire me to achieve my goals. In addition, since my first degree I have received financial support from the São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP) and now in Oxford my research is funded by Clarendon and Cancer Research UK (CRUK). All this support has allowed me to keep pursuing my goals as a scientist.

 You recently helped at the Oncology UNIQ Summer School, running demonstrations on the practical day and leading tutorials for the students. Can you describe the experience?

I have always had a fondness for teaching, which is why I initially took up the teaching degree. I try to be regularly involved with teaching as I feel communicating science to others is crucial to our role as researchers. Most importantly, it could encourage someone to start a career in science had they not had the opportunity. The students on the UNIQ course were very bright and genuinely curious. I really enjoyed their excitement over the small details that we tend to overlook in our day-to-day life in the lab. The whole experience was very gratifying and I would definitely encourage people to get involved.

 Outside of your DPhil and research, what do you do to relax?

I have never been a sporty person (another phrase for lazy), but I have recently started swimming, after encouragement from my housemates, and I now do it as a regular activity. However, what I really enjoy is music, especially playing acoustic guitar to help me relax.