Meet the Researcher

Hadil El-Sammak, MSc

PhD Student
Max Planck Institute for Heart and Lung Research
Bad Nauheim, Germany

 

 

Current Research

What is your research focus? 
I am working on cardiac regeneration in zebrafish.  My main focus is trying to understand how coronary endothelial cells regulate cardiac regeneration.  In particular, we are looking at the role of the vascular endothelial growth factor C during this process.  I am also working on another project to understand the role of primordial layer cardiomyocytes during cardiac regeneration.

What current project are you excited about? 
I really like both projects a lot.  I might be a little bit more excited for the coronary project since it is very close to the end now.

What do you like about working with zebrafish? What don’t you like about it? 
I love everything about zebrafish, from their transparent embryos and large numbers to their fascinating ability to regenerate different organs! I think they are very easy to handle and very importantly, they do not bite!
What I do not like is that working on regeneration requires more planning and we have to wait till the fish are adults, so it takes longer than usual, this is where I envy people working on development for faster progress.

Getting to know you better

Where were you born/where did you grow up?   
I was born in Cairo, Egypt and grew up in Dubai, UAE where I spent most of my childhood.

When did you realize you wanted to have a career as a scientist? /What made you realize you wanted to have a career as a scientist? 
The greatest influence was from my high school chemistry teacher, she really encouraged us to ask questions and be curious, I think that’s when I realized I wanted to be a scientist.

Where did you do your undergraduate studies? Did you do research with anyone? 
I studied Pharmacy for my BSc. at the German University in Cairo.  During that time, I got the chance to do an internship at the Molecular and Cellular Biology lab under the supervision of Dr. Imaan Gomaa where I was introduced to research for the first time.

Where did you do graduate studies and with whom?  What did you work on? 
I did my MSc. at the Georg-August Universität Göttingen in Germany where I studied Molecular Biology.  During that time, I did 3 lab rotations, one of which involved working on sciatic nerve injury and remylination.  This is where I discovered my interest in the regeneration field.  I then joined the Stainier lab for my master thesis where I worked on metabolism during cardiac regeneration, and I just loved the topic and really enjoyed working with zebrafish, so I stayed for the PhD to continue working on cardiac regeneration.

Where did you do postdoctoral studies and with whom?  What did you work on? 
That would be the next step, so stay tuned!

What other jobs have you had? 
I did and still am doing some volunteering work.  During my bachelor studies I joined a non-profit organization at the university which aimed at educating orphans, and I enjoyed being their science teacher for some time.  Now I am an editor in an initiative called ‘Maqal Elmy’- an Arabic term which means ‘Scientific Article’ and our main role is to translate recent scientific articles to Arabic in a simplified way that the non-academic public would enjoy to read.

Science and Careers

Share a turning point or defining moment in your science/career. 
I do not recall a particular turning point.  In every phase, I am learning more about the academic process and more about myself.

If you could be present for any "Eureka" moment in history (i.e. the moment some scientific discovery was made), which moment would you choose? Why? 
Coming from a pharmacy background, I’ve always been fascinated by the ‘unintentional’ discovery of Penicillin by Prof. Alexander Fleming and how it revolutionized the medical field. I would have loved to witness that.

What advice would you give to someone considering a career in science/research?
I would advise them (and myself) to keep asking questions, follow your passion, be persistent and trust your results.

Where do you think the next scientific breakthroughs are going to occur? 
With the emergence of mRNA vaccines, I think we will be seeing more advances in the use of RNA for therapeutic approaches.  And in the non-biological field, I think a lot of new technologies will be emerge with the great advances made in artificial intelligence.

What is the most challenging part about your science or obtaining your career goals? 
I think the most challenging part is to stay optimistic despite negative results and frustration (which is just part of science).

Outside of work

What do you enjoy doing outside of work/lab? 
I enjoy hiking whenever the weather is good.  I also enjoy doing sports; it is more of a stress reliever for me.

What are you reading right now (not including research papers)? 
‘All the light we cannot see’ by Anthony Doerr.

Name a favorite song or musical piece. 
Nothing in particular, I enjoy listening to classical music.

Favorite place you have lived or visited? 
I really like the mountains.  I visited Grindelwald in Switzerland last summer and I absolutely loved it.

What alternative career would you like to attempt if you could? 
As a kid I used to play the piano, which I really miss right now.  I would have loved to pursue that to a more professional level.

Provide a quote that speaks to you. 
An Arabic quote ‘’لكل مجتهد نصيب’’ which has the same meaning as: ‘’Hard work pays off’’


Valerie Tornini, PhD

Postdoctoral Associate
Department of Genetics, Yale School of Medicine
New Haven, Connecticut, USA

 

 

 

Current Research

What is your research focus? 
My current research focus is understanding the roles that two classes of genes – chromatin modifiers and micropeptides – play in correct cell type specification and subsequent (neuro)developmental and behavioral phenotypes when mutated, using zebrafish as a model.

Mi enfoque de investigación se aboca a comprender las funciones que desempeñan dos clases de genes: modificadores de la cromatina y micropéptidos, en la especificación correcta de las células y los fenotipos del (neuro) desarrollo y de comportamiento cuando faltan, utilizando el pez cebra como modelo.

What current project are you excited about? 
I am most excited about a project where I identify two paralogous genes, previously identified as long noncoding RNAs, that in fact encode small proteins. Loss-of-function mutations in these genes result in a dramatic daytime hyperactivity phenotype. Using genome engineering, behavioral fingerprinting, pharmacological analyses, genomics, and single-cell analyses, we identify cell states and pathways that are affected, and identify a way to fully rescue the behavioral phenotype. This manuscript is currently in preparation, and provides an entry point to identifying how other such candidate genes may be regulating cell specification, correct circuit development, and vertebrate development.

Lo que más me entusiasma es un proyecto en el que identifico dos genes parálogos, previamente identificados como ARN largos no codificantes, que de hecho codifican proteínas pequeñas. Las mutaciones con pérdida de función en estos genes dan como resultado un fenotipo de hiperactividad diurna. Yo uso ingeniería del genoma, la toma de huellas digitales de comporamiento, análisis farmacológicos, la genómica y secuenciación de células individuales, para detectar las células que se ven afectadas. También identifico cómo tratar por completo el fenotipo. Actualmente estoy preparando este manuscrito, que nos abre una puerta para identificar cómo otros genes candidatos pueden regular la especificación celular, el desarrollo correcto de los circuitos cerebrales y el desarrollo de los vertebrados.

What do you like about working with zebrafish? What don’t you like about it? 
The best part of working with zebrafish, biologically, is the relatively easy access to embryos to be able to inject or bathe them to test hypotheses or generate tools, while reducing the use and number of vertebrate animals required for such experiments. The best part of working with zebrafish otherwise is the community of researchers who freely and openly share transgenic and mutant tools, and the tremendous community resource that is ZFIN.org. I think there is room for improvement in genome engineering technologies, and more complete annotations of the zebrafish genome. 

Lo mejor de trabajar con el pez cebra, biológicamente hablando, es el acceso relativamente fácil a los embriones para poder inyectarlos o bañarlos y probar hipótesis o generar herramientas, mientras se reduce el uso y el número de animales vertebrados necesarios para tales experimentos. Además, me apasiona la comunidad de investigadores que comparten libre y abiertamente las herramientas transgénicas y mutantes, y el tremendo recurso comunitario que es ZFIN.org. Creo que hay espacio para mejoras en las tecnologías de ingeniería del genoma, como así también ayudarían anotaciones más completas del mismo.

Getting to know you better

Where were you born/where did you grow up?   
I was born in Port Chester, NY, in the United States, and was raised in a Uruguayan household there until I left for college.

Nací y me crié en Port Chester, NY, en los Estados Unidos, en un hogar uruguayo hasta que me fui a la universidad.

When did you realize you wanted to have a career as a scientist? /What made you realize you wanted to have a career as a scientist? 
I had always been curious about nature, and even at a young age told myself that I would be a scientist. Yet, I had no role models or idea what that would entail. In middle school, I attended a science camp for underprivileged girls, which fostered a sense of belonging in science. Every step of my education since has focused on a career in science, while also training broadly in other areas of interest.

Siempre había sentido curiosidad por la naturaleza e incluso de niña me convencí que sería una científica. Sin embargo, no tenía modelos a seguir ni idea de lo que la ciencia implicaría. En la escuela secundaria, asistí a un campamento de ciencias para niñas, que fomentó un sentido de pertenencia a la ciencia. Cada paso de mi educación desde ese entonces se ha centrado en una carrera en la ciencia, mientras que también continúo capacitándome ampliamente en otras áreas de interés.

Where did you do your undergraduate studies? Did you do research with anyone?
I did my undergraduate studies at Duke University in Durham, NC (USA). I received full financial aid and external scholarships, which allowed me to complete my bachelors in Biology (Cell and Molecular Biology concentration) and in Religion (Religion in Modernity Concentration), with a chemistry minor. Through federal work study, I sought out diverse research opportunities with Dr. Elizabeth Brannon (infant cognition), Dr. David Montefiori (AIDS vaccine research and development), and Dr. Tannishtha Reya (stem cell fate and self-renewal in leukemia).

 Completé mis estudios de carrera en la Universidad de Duke en Durham, NC (EE. UU.). Recibí becas que financiaron completamente mis estudios, lo que me permitió completar mi licenciatura en Biología (concentración en Biología Celular y Molecular) y en Religión (Religión en los Tiempos Modernos), con una especialización en Química. A través del estudio de trabajo federal, busqué diversas oportunidades de investigación con la Dra. Elizabeth Brannon (cognición infantil), el Dr. David Montefiori (investigación y desarrollo de vacunas contra el SIDA) y la Dra. Tannishtha Reya (células madre y autorrenovación en la leucemia).

Where did you do graduate studies and with whom?  What did you work on? 
I did my graduate studies at Duke University School of Medicine, through the Developmental and Stem Cell Biology training program. After rotating in the labs of Drs. Blanche Capel, Kenneth Poss, and Çağla Eroğlu, I joined the Poss lab, where I used adult zebrafish tissues and organs, primarily the fin, as genetic models for tissue regeneration to understand how cells in a complex adult tissue coordinately regenerate a patterned structure after injury.

Hice mis estudios de doctorado en la Facultad de Medicina de la Universidad de Duke, a través del programa de Biología de Células Madre y del Desarrollo. Después de rotar en los laboratorios de los Dres. Blanche Capel, Kenneth Poss y Çağla Eroğlu, me uní al laboratorio de Ken Poss, donde utilicé tejidos y órganos del pez cebra adulto, principalmente la aleta caudal, como modelos genéticos para la regeneración de tejidos. Esto lo hice, para comprender cómo las células en un tejido adulto complejo regeneran coordinadamente una estructura después de una lesión.

Where did you do postdoctoral studies and with whom?  What did you work on? 
I am currently a postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Genetics in Yale School of Medicine. In Dr. Antonio Giraldez’s lab, I use the larval zebrafish system to investigate the roles of chromatin modifiers and remodelers in establishing and maintaining cell identities, and how these are dysregulated in neurodevelopmental disorders.

Actualmente soy investigadora postdoctoral en el Departamento de Genética de la Facultad de Medicina de Yale. En el laboratorio del Dr. Antonio Giráldez, utilizo el sistema del pez cebra larval para investigar las funciones de los modificadores y remodeladores de la cromatina en establecer y mantener las identidades celulares, y cómo se desregulan en los trastornos del neurodesarrollo.

What other jobs have you had? 
I’ve had numerous jobs since I was 14, including academic tutoring, piano/clarinet/marimba instructor, various work-study jobs throughout college (in addition to my research lab jobs), and I also partook in paid clinical studies. Learning early on how to manage my schedule, budgets, and responsibilities was key to balancing the many facets that a career in academia requires.

He tenido muchos trabajos desde que tenía 14 años, incluyendo tutoría académica, instructora de piano / clarinete / marimba, varios trabajos de “work study” en la universidad (además de mis trabajos de laboratorio de investigación), y también participé en estudios clínicos remunerados. Aprender desde el principio cómo administrar mi horario, presupuestos y responsabilidades fue clave para equilibrar las muchas facetas que requiere una carrera en el mundo académico.

Science and Careers

Share a turning point or defining moment in your science/career. 
A defining moment was during my doctoral training, when my projects just weren’t working, I screened the one surviving fish from a backup experiment that I had injected 3 months prior for transgenic transmission. With a literal stroke of luck, that line ended up defining my dissertation project. This experience taught me to 1) fail quickly, 2) just make an important tool to ask an important question, 3) don’t give up until you’re done looking, and 4) work hard and always be prepared, but also be open to seeing when luck is looking your way. 

Un momento decisivo fue durante mi formación doctoral, cuando mis proyectos simplemente no funcionaban. Examiné el único pez sobreviviente de un experimento de respaldo que había inyectado 3 meses antes para la transmisión transgénica. Con un golpe de suerte literal, esa línea terminó definiendo mi proyecto de tesis. Esta experiencia me enseñó a 1) fallar rápidamente, 2) simplemente crear una herramienta importante para hacer una pregunta importante, 3) no darme por vencida hasta que haya terminado de buscar, y 4) trabajar duro y estar siempre preparada, pero también estar atenta a observar cuándo la suerte se presenta.

If you could be present for any "Eureka" moment in history (i.e. the moment some scientific discovery was made), which moment would you choose? Why? 
I think I would choose the moment(s) of the first visualization of sperm fertilizing an egg, and even further when the first calcium waves were visualized. I think there are few things more stunning than to watch the first steps of what could become a new life.  

Creo que elegiría los momentos de la primera visualización del esperma fertilizando un óvulo, y aún más cuando se visualizaron las primeras ondas de calcio en este proceso. Creo que hay pocas cosas más asombrosas que ver los primeros pasos de lo que pueda convertirse en una nueva vida.

What advice would you give someone considering a career in science/research?
In no particular order: Be curious; find a supportive team; don’t fear failing (but fail fast when you do); always have strong controls; try to test your hypothesis wrong – if it is correct, it will withstand experiments that challenge it; tests and classes no longer define “success” in science/research; give credit where credit is due, there are limitless discoveries to be made; do the science that is most interesting to you and seek out advocates who support your vision; run into some luck (and seek out your own luck); always be kind; pay it forward.

Sin orden en particular: Sea curioso; trabaje con un equipo que lo apoye; no tema en fallar (pero cuando lo haga, falla rápido); siempre use controles experimentales concretos; intente destruir su hipótesis; si es correcta, la hipótesis resistirá los experimentos que la desafíen; los exámenes y las clases ya no definen el "éxito" en la ciencia / investigación; dele el crédito a quien se lo merece, hay ilimitados descubrimientos por hacer; investigue lo que más le interese y busque defensores que apoyen su visión; esté abierto a la suerte (y búsquela también); sea siempre bondadoso; hoy por tí, mañana por mí (cadena de favores).

Where do you think the next scientific breakthroughs are going to occur? 
I think the next scientific breakthroughs will occur, quite broadly, using discovery approaches in basic science. I hope the next scientific breakthroughs will occur in biological tools that can be adapted to counter expedited climate change, which is currently the greatest threat to life on Earth.

Creo que los próximos avances científicos se producirán, de manera bastante amplia, utilizando enfoques de descubrimiento en la ciencia básica. Espero que éstos se produzcan en herramientas biológicas que puedan adaptarse para contrarrestar el cambio climático acelerado, que actualmente es la mayor amenaza para la vida en la Tierra.

What is the most challenging part about your science or obtaining your career goals? 
I think the most challenging part about science is not the science itself, but learning how to work together with people from completely different backgrounds, experiences, and expertise. In terms of obtaining career goals, academia is still a black box to all but a few. I think accepting that much of science is luck is difficult for me, especially if one does not have backup resources on which to fall back. Yet, I have benefited from exceptional mentorship, and I aim to pay forward that mentorship to guide the next generation of scientists to success in science, whatever that may mean to them.

Creo que la parte más desafiante de la ciencia no es la ciencia en sí misma, sino aprender a trabajar junto a personas de orígenes, experiencias y conocimientos completamente diferentes. En cuanto a los objetivos profesionales, la academia sigue siendo una caja negra para la mayoría. Creo que aceptar que gran parte de la ciencia es suerte es para mí difícil, especialmente si uno no tiene recursos de respaldo a los que recurrir. Sin embargo, me he beneficiado de una tutoría y mentores excepcionales. Mi objetivo es seguir adelante con esa tutoría para guiar a la próxima generación de científicos hacia el éxito en la ciencia, sea lo que sea que eso signifique para ellos.

Outside of work

What do you enjoy doing outside of work/lab? 
Outside of lab, especially in non-Covid times, I enjoy playing volleyball and tennis, Latin dancing, traveling, and exploring nature with my dog, Pete.

Fuera del laboratorio, me gusta jugar al voleibol y tenis, el baile latino, viajar, y explorar la naturaleza con mi perro, Pete.

What are you reading right now (not including research papers)? 
Currently, I am reading Open Veins of Latin America (Eduardo Galeano) and Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-create Race in the Twenty-First Century (Dorothy Roberts), and I recently finished Pedagogy of the Oppressed (Paulo Freire).

Actualmente, estoy leyendo “Las Venas Abiertas De América Latina” (Eduardo Galeano) y “Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-create Race in the Twenty-First Century” (Dorothy Roberts), y recientemente terminé “Pedagogía Del Oprimido” (Paulo Freire).

Name a favorite song or musical piece. 
“Noctiluca” by Jorge Drexler transports me. Bonus: this song references a stunning marine bioluminescent phenomenon.

“Noctiluca” de Jorge Drexler me transporta. Además, esta canción hace referencia a un impresionante fenómeno bioluminiscente marino.

Favorite place you have lived or visited? 
My favorite places so far are Istanbul and southeastern Turkey, where I briefly studied.

Mis lugares favoritos hasta ahora son Estambul y el sureste de Turquía, donde estudié brevemente.

What alternative career would you like to attempt if you could? 
I used to dream of becoming a paleontologist. Maybe I’ll be able to merge that dream with an academic career some day!

Solía soñar en ser paleontóloga. ¡Quizás algún día pueda fusionar ese sueño con una carrera académica!

Provide a quote that speaks to you. 
In my daily life, I consider how to always pay it forward. A quote that speaks to me in this regard is from Toni Morrison: “I tell my students, 'When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else…”

En mi vida diaria considero cómo ayudar a otros, como tantos me han ayudado. Una frase que habla sobre esto es de Toni Morrison: “Les digo a mis alumnos: 'Cuando consigan estos trabajos para los que han recibido una formación tan brillante, recuerden que su trabajo real, si son libres, consiste en liberar a alguien más. Si tienen un poco de poder, entonces su trabajo es empoderar a alguien más...”

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