In the first instalment of our ‘meet the researcher’ series, we sat down for an interview with Carmen Rodríguez, who is working with Dr Martin Pule at University College London (UCL) to investigate the potential of immunotherapy to treat osteosarcoma patients.

Walking us through the world of biomedicine, Carmen reflects on why we need to change the way we talk about science, and explains how baking became her perfect downtime from lab work.

When did you first know that you wanted a career in research?

My passion for human biology dates back to high school. At the time, my plan was to be a medical doctor and be at the frontline of helping patients suffering from disease.

It was during the last year of high school in my native Spain, which is the equivalent to A level in the UK, that I decided I wanted a career in research. I realised what fascinated me the most was the molecular biology of disease and the discovery of breakthrough treatments.

I figured that, by pursuing a career in biomedical sciences, I could fulfil both my passion for understanding the molecular make-up of disease and my desire to help patients.

How did you come to specialise in bone cancer biology?

Cancer has always fascinated me because it's a disease where our own cells mutate, conquer the immune system, and thrive.

Bone cancer captured my interest specifically because unlike other cancers, it mainly affects children, teenagers and young adults. Because it is so rare, there is little research investment by the major cancer charities, making treatments limited and hideously outdated.

There is desperate need for research in this field to improve the way we treat the disease, and I really want to contribute towards it.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

For me its knowing that I am gaining insight which, in the future, may lead to an improvement in the way we treat bone cancer.

I always like to keep the ultimate goal of helping bone cancer patients at the forefront of my mind. My experiments are advancing amazingly, and that in itself means a step closer towards a cure.

What is the most difficult part of your job?

Unfortunately, not all of the experiments that we try work, which can be very frustrating. However, I think it is important to be resilient and stop for a second to think about what went wrong and how we can improve things next time.

Who do you admire in the history of research and why?

It is so difficult to name just one person, there have been many people that have dedicated their time to science and have achieved breakthrough discoveries because of it.

I have to say that I'm a big fan of CRISPR-Cas9. It's a genome editing method for which Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna won the Nobel prize in 2020. I also look up to a Spanish scientist called Francis Mojica who, even though he was not included in the prize, made the initial discovery.

I admire these scientists because their method has allowed others to edit the genomes of cells so precisely that it has increased our understanding of disease from a molecular perspective.

What advice would you give to someone considering research as a career?

If you are passionate about science, you should pursue it and use your talent to help others. Research has its ups and downs, but overall, it is a wonderful and fulfilling career.

Try to talk to scientists, visit laboratories, and take on a internship at a research centre. By the time you have to make the decision about research as a career, you know it is an informed and realistic one.

What do you wish that people better understood about research?

I think that research is difficult to understand for many people because it is talked about in a very technical and complex way. Not everyone has a background in science.

There's also a lot of misinformation and preconceptions that people accept to be true, and this can lead people to avoid reading about science themselves.

As scientists, we need to find better ways to communicate science. But I also think that people need to be aware that science is based on evidence built on years of extensive experimental work over a long period of time. Therefore, it can be trusted.

What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?

It's a cliché, but believe in yourself because you can do it. For me, this was really important because it pushed me to do things that I wasn't confident enough to do before.

Sometimes you don't apply for a job, scholarship, or internship because you don't think you are good enough. Often this is not true, and that one sentence is the little push you need in that moment.

What are your hobbies or interests outside of the lab?

I love nature and like hiking a lot, both in the countryside and in coastal areas. I also love cooking, especially baking... of course, the best part is getting to eat the cake afterwards in the company of good friends and family!

When I am back home for the holidays, I like to play the piano that I learnt when I was younger.

Do you have a message for patients undergoing treatment?

It's really hard to imagine all of the stress and suffering that cancer patients are going through. From a researcher's perspective, please know that there is hope. Scientists are working hard every day, with you at the forefront of their minds, to create better treatments.

To find out more about Carmen's research project, please visit the link below:

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