Meet the “Scientist of Tomorrow” – Valentina Palacio Castaneda

As announced a couple of days ago, Nanolive chose Ms. Valentina Palacio Castaneda as the winner of the “Scientist of Tomorrow” contest. 

We were keen to know more about the winner and her passion for biology and asked a few questions before her arrival next week at our headquarters.

Valentina, tell us more about yourself, why did you become a biology student?

“I have had a passion for research since middle school, and for biomedical research, specifically. While studying for my bachelor’s degree in Biotechnology in Colombia, I was selected for a highly competitive senior undergraduate internship at the Group of Neuroscience of Antioquia conducting cutting-edge research in Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience. I completed the internship successfully, but it left me with two substantial concerns about having a career in biotechnology. First, I was frustrated that many of our group’s developments were never going to be practically applied and that even the most promising were at least two decades away from practical application. Second, I had always found animal-based research distasteful, but it was fundamental to our research, so I did it. The experience was heartbreaking.

Since that moment I decided that one of my career goal’s should be to work employing alternative in vitro models to help reduce the use of animals in research while providing a better and faster translation of the results into a human context.

This decision led me to apply for a master’s program at Radboud University in the Netherlands, called Molecular Mechanisms of Disease (MMD). The MMD master’s program is a very challenging, research-oriented 2-year master. During this time, we perform two 6-months research-training periods at top laboratories, with the aim of preparing us for a further career in science. During my first internship, I worked on the development of a microfluidic device to simulate the tumor microenvironment for the investigation of novel cancer therapies. 

My first master’s internship enhanced my interest in the field of microfluidics and its biological applications. I decided then to perform my second master’s internship in a collaboration between the Institut Curie and the Institut Pierre-Gilles de Gennes for microfluidics in Paris, to continue working with micro-fabricated tools reproducing physiological conditions in 3D in vitro systems. This time, I am developing a microfluidic device to investigate the mechanical changes induced by chemokines to enhance immune cells motility in a 3D environment. During this internship, I am increasing my hands-on knowledge in microfabrication applied to the study of immune cells migration, as well as an extensive use of microscopy techniques like multi-color-live-cell imaging.”

What do you wish to learn at Nanolive?

“During my internship in Paris, I came to know about the 3D Cell Explorer and together with my supervisor we realized that such technology would be very suitable for our research interests. Our biological system is based on cells that migrate very fast. Therefore, using the 3D Cell Explorer microscope, I would be able to visualize very rapidly and with great resolution how cells that perform fast migration deform and reorient their organelles in response to different chemical and physical signals. During my stay at Nanolive, I would love to learn more about the technology behind the 3D Cell Explorer Microscope and how it can be applied to track cells in real time without altering the cells’ normal physiology. I hope we can launch some experiments during the time I am there, where we can also use the microscope to look at the cells in 3D collagen gels, which are an important part of our microfabricated systems that aim to replicate the 3D microenvironments in which the cells normally migrate through in our bodies.”  

What do you wish to contribute to Nanolive’s development during your internship?

“I hope I can also share with you the experience I have acquired with live-cell imaging in 2D and 3D models and in microfabrication. I hope that both my research skills combined with Nanolive’s could benefit science in an impactful way since the application of novel microscopy techniques together with the development of microfabricated tools and 3D in vitro systems would be of great value to answer many biological questions that until now cannot be answered using traditional in vitro models.”