The PhD thesis was supervised by Judith Guasch and Imma Ratera from the Nanomol-Bio Group, ICMAB-CSIC.
The PhD Committee that evaluated the Thesis was formed by Jesus Maria Izco Zaratiegui from Bioproducts Diversification, Viscofan SA, Spain (President), Ana Paula Candiota Silveira from the Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Department, CIBER-BBN, Spain (Secretary) and Kaori Sugihara from the Materials and Environmental Science Department, The University of Tokyo, Japan (Vocal).
Doctor Roberto Fabião Santos Abreu’s PhD thesis was part of the PhD Programme in Materials Science from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB).
From left to right: Kaori Sugihara (on screen), Imma Ratera, Jesus Maria Izco Zaratiegui, Ana Paula Candiota Silveira, Roberto Fabião Santos Abreu and Judith Guasch.
Why did you choose the ICMAB for your PhD?
I got awarded a DOCtoral training programme in Functional Advanced Materials (DOC-FAM) launched for the recruitment of Marie-Skłodowska-Curie Early-Stage Researchers. One of the projects available (the one I worked during the last 3 years) was in very good alignment with my background and future objectives, and that project was hosted at ICMAB.
How would you explain your research to a non-scientific audience?
I have worked in the development of better strategies to expand white cells, such as T-cells, which play a critical part in immunity to foreign substances, and even against cancerous cells. More specifically I worked with new 3D hydrogels that provides high rates of cell proliferation, as they mimic lymph nodes, where T-cells reproduce in our bodies.
What are the main applications of your research? Could you give us an example?
These new 3D hydrogels can mimic lymph nodes, where T-cells reproduce and, therefore, provide high rates of cell proliferation. So we hope to be able to bring this new technology, for which a patent has already been filed at the European Patent Office, to hospitals soon, in order to expand T-cells in a more efficient way, being able then to reintroduce these cells into the patients, to better help their immune system to fight the disease.
From the lessons learnt here, which one do you value the most?
Being proactive and being comfortable dealing with failure while maintaining a great sense of responsibility. Focus on the path, and not in the obstacles!
What will you miss the most from ICMAB?
All the team I have the pleasure to learn with and all the amazing people that supported me!
How do you think this experience will contribute to your training and to your future?
It was a great learning experience that provided me "tools" I am now able to use to open even more "doors" than before. I feel taking this PhD provided me personal value and scientific expertise in the field making me more secure and confident to face future challenges with eager.
What are your plans once you finish your PhD?
Apply what I've learnt to my new position and continue learning and sharing the most I can, always with the desire to better people's health.
What do you wish you had known at the beginning of your PhD, that you can recommend to the ones who are starting?
Having a bigger and wider vison, beyond a PhD is quite important. Being proactive and believe in your value as a person despite the circumstances and what people may tell you, or treat you. Sounds cliché, but common knowledge and common practice are very different things.
Do not allow anyone to put you down, do not give them that power! How you react to external situations (which you can't control most of the time) should be your own privilege, do not handle it to others. Take good care of you!
Why did you become a scientist? Who have been your role models?
I find it strange to consider me a scientist, so I do not consider myself one. I am just very curious, and I like to learn new things. Ideally Science should be about curiosity. But Science more than ever is a slave of Technology. All we do in the lab should be applicable ASAP and potentially commercially available. It is totally fine in some cases, but should all Science be driven towards such direction?
I like the idea of being free, creating, and seeking answers, so I enjoy scientific research by itself.
My parents are my role models. Every single person I see being kind are my role models. Fair and honest people are my role models.
Who is your favourite female scientist? And why?
Only asking about a favorite female scientist and not about a male scientist is not fair, either for females or males. We want equilibrium, not just jump to the opposite side.
So, one, of many of my favorite female scientists, is Gertrude Elion, Nobel winner, born in 1918, was a biochemist and pharmacologist who developed a systematic method for producing drugs based on knowledge of biochemistry, used as an example, to treat leukemia and prevent kidney transplant rejection.
One of my favorite male scientists is William B. Coley, the "father on immunotherapy", which first attempted to harness the immune system for treating cancer in the late 19th century despite the huge lack of knowledge about the immune system, at that time.