Young researchers present on the global stage (Part 3)

In this third edition of our researcher series, six rising scientists, competing for Sparrho’s Early Career Researcher Prize, tell us how their research could change the world.

David Perez Guaita — Monash, Australia

David Perez Guaita

Postdoctoral research fellow at Monash University, Australia

#raman #chemometrics #clinical #spectroscopy #imaging #infrared

David will be speaking at SPEC — International Society of Clinical Spectroscopy in Glasgow in June 2018.

How would you introduce your research to a non-expert? Our job is to use this technology to develop point-of-care and cost-effective tools for the diagnosis of infectious diseases in developing countries and infrared light is very informative in this respect. It contains a spectrum with thousands of “invisible colours” which contain information about the composition of the sample. We can train mathematical models to differentiate between healthy and unhealthy samples using these “invisible colours”, which capture the biochemical changes caused by disease.

How has your research field already contributed to the world? We are close to developing a cost-effective and point-of-care methodology which can provide a zero-cost diagnosis of malaria. The multiple testing of all residents of a village will be an invaluable tool which will contribute to the eradication of Malaria. Biomedical scientists achieve this by using enzymes or stains to obtain information about the biochemical composition of samples. Infrared and Raman offers a revolutionary approach, providing this knowledge without using any reagent. This may lead to important applications such as automated histopathology from untreated cells and tissues.

“Go there and feel the joy of meeting people as enthusiastic as you are! And do not panic if your research is challenged by your friends, it is part of the science game.”

What advice would you give to younger students regarding attending a conference? Attending a conference is the best opportunity you have for networking. This is essential for your future. You will be inspired by the research of your peers and your knowledge and creativity will be challenged.

Also, do not forget the free food. Free food is awesome.

Read more about David’s research here.


Angelica Mariani — Cambridge, UK

Angelica Mariani

Postdoctoral researcher at the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, UK

#RNA #prebiotic #energy #dissipative #recycling

Angelica will be speaking at the International Conference on the Origin of Life, San Diego, USA in July 2017.

How would you introduce your research to a non-expert? We as humans instinctively seek and try to understand our origins. Going back in time, before dinosaurs, evolution and the first organisms, the origin of life can be explained through chemistry. My research is to study how the “chemical ingredients” present on the early Earth gave rise to the building blocks of modern biology and, specifically, I investigate the evolution of RNA, which is one of the key ingredients of all living cells.

How has your research field already contributed to the world? The field of prebiotic chemistry is essential in deciphering the origin of all living cells, but that’s not all! Understanding the chemistry that took place before the advent of biology can provide insights into the geological scenario present on our planet 4 billions years ago, which ultimately can direct and aid the search for life on other planets in the universe.

“Don’t be shy, ask questions and meet new people!”

What advice would you give to younger students regarding attending a conference? Attending a conference is a great way to expand your personal knowledge while being inspired by someone else’s research. And why not? You could get new ideas for your future career.

Read more about Angelica’s research here.


Tobias Keil — Munich, Germany

Tobias Keil

PhD student at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitat Munich, Germany

#drypowder #inhalation #spraydrying #siRNA

Tobias will be presenting at 11th World Meeting on Pharmaceutics, Biopharmaceutics and Pharmaceutical Technology, Spain in March 2018.

How would you introduce your research to a non-expert? Take an orchestra, and a hyperactive conductor who confuses individual musicians. This could have disastrous consequences for the performance of the piece. Similar things happen in the human body in relation to asthma — when the body overreacts to non-toxic molecules. The challenge in combatting asthma, is how we target cells in the lungs in order to avoid side-effects and how do we deliver drugs to these cells, which have their own defence mechanisms?

How has your research field already contributed to the world? In the US and also in many European countries asthma is still not treated by the usual drugs, leading to hundreds of deaths per year. These medicines usually treat individual symptoms in isolation, but don’t target the cause of the symptoms. By targeting the up-regulated translation of a key protein with siRNA, we hope to inhibit the following downstream cascade and ease most of the symptoms. At the same time we seek to reduce mortality from asthma. Also, by developing a non-invasive formulation for the pulmonary application of siRNA we can reduce side-effects and decrease the amount of drugs needed for treatment.

“Different people, have different backgrounds and different point of views.”

What advice would you give to younger students regarding attending a conference? Get the most out of it. And I don’t only mean talks, presentations and posters but also (and even more importantly) contact with other researchers. Different people, have different backgrounds and different point of views. This might lead to different approaches concerning your and other people’s problem and finally to a better and maybe a quicker solution. Also for life beyond science it is simply fun to discover different cultures, customs and of course, new friends.

Read more about Tobias’s research here.


Linda Zhang — Tennessee, USA

Linda Zhang

Postdoctoral Fellow at Vanderbilt University, USA

#atherosclerosis #gutmicrobiome

Linda will be speaking at the Bioactive Lipids in Cancer, Inflammation, and Related Diseases Conference in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico in October 2017.

How would you introduce your research to a non-expert? Atherosclerosis is the buildup of fatty cholesterol-laden plaques in arteries and hallmark of cardiovascular disease, which kills one in three people in Westernised societies.

My research focuses on understanding the atherosclerotic disease processes and developing pharmacological strategies to prevent disease.

I study two strategies to target the inflammatory disease process:

  1. the use of gut bacteria engineered to produce anti-inflammatory molecules,
  2. the use of small molecule scavengers that target reactive molecules generated in disease that cause inflammation and pathological consequences

How has your research field already contributed to the world Cardiovascular disease remains the leading cause of death worldwide and novel pharmacological strategies are needed since lifestyle changes are oftentimes difficult to adhere. My research examines two different strategies to treat atherosclerosis.

One strategy is modulating the gut microbiome by engineering a particular microbial species to produce therapeutic molecules with anti-inflammatory effects.

Another strategy focuses on protecting our cells and proteins from oxidative attack by inflammatory and reactive molecules generated during disease, by developing small molecules that scavenge the harmful molecules.

Both are novel strategies aimed to prevent the progression of atherosclerosis and thus reduce the rate of death worldwide.

“Begin with a simple goal to learn three things, ask three questions and meet three people.”

What advice would you give to younger students regarding attending a conference? Come into the conference with a mission, and you will get so much more value out of it. Begin with a simple goal to learn three things, ask three questions and meet three people.

In addition to attending oral presentations, do attend the poster sessions because they are a great way to informally connect with others to share research ideas & questions (oftentimes over coffee, food or beer!).

Take every opportunity to submit abstracts to be accepted for presentation because not only do you have the opportunity to share your latest research findings and practice your presentation skills, but you will also have the chance to make yourself known to peers and senior investigators from around the world. Finally, have lots of fun!

Read more about Linda’s research here:


Preeyam Patel — Colorado, USA

Preeyam Patel

Postdoctoral research fellow at National Jewish Health hospital in Colorado, USA

#neonatal #microbial #immunology

Preeyam will be presenting at the Mucosal Immunology Symposium in Washington DC, USA in July 2017.

How would you introduce your research to a non-expert? Children are born with immune systems that are skewed towards being pro-allergic, which often leads to them developing allergies and asthma. This allergic disposition is due to pro-allergic T cells called TH2 cells, which can be suppressed or balanced out by other T cell subsets such as TH1 or regulatory T cells (Treg) that are stimulated by microbes. I am currently interested in developing a microbe-derived vaccine or probiotic that will be administered during childhood to decrease the skewing towards a TH2 response and promote a balance among TH1, TH2, and Treg cells for the prevention of asthma.

How has your research field already contributed to the world? In the past few decades, rates of asthma have risen dramatically among children born in industrialized countries compared to those in developing ones. This has spiked some pharmaceutical interest in the field of atopy. A lot of new drugs that neutralize pro-allergic cytokines (IL-4, IL-13), antibodies (IgE), and molecules (histamine, leukotriene) have been developed to help treat children with asthma. While there is a plethora of evidence that neonatal microbial exposure is inversely associated with asthma, researchers are still in the process of identifying how microbes reprogram the developing immune system in a way that suppresses asthma. In the future, administration of a small molecule that modifies the pro-allergic immune system of at risk children would be successful ways to help prevent the development of asthma.

“Take the opportunity to branch out a little bit and attend a few sessions that are outside of your current research topic or interests.”

What advice would you give to younger students regarding attending a conference? Take the opportunity to branch out a little bit and attend a few sessions that are outside of your current research topic or interests. This will allow you to make yourself more familiar with other aspects of your field and even pick up some new techniques.

In graduate school I studied the role of innate-like B cells in respiratory allergies and asthma and I dropped in on talks about ocular autoimmunity and colitis. Eventually this knowledge allowed me to pilot some interesting studies on ocular and food allergy.

Read more about Preeyam’s research here.


Reena Sri Selvarajan — Malaysia

Reena Sri Selvarajan

PhD Student at the National University of Malaysia

#biosensor #graphene #analytes #sensitive

Reena will be presenting at SPIE Nanoscience + Engineering, San Diego, California in August 2017.

How would you introduce your research to a non-expert? Failure of kidney response to anti-diuretic hormone (ADH) leads to excessive water loss from the body in the form of urine production. In order to restore this function in an artificial kidney, it’s essential to develop a sensing platform to detect ADH. Therefore, in my research work, I’m using NEMS technology (slicing one hair strand into 1000 partitions resembling nanometers) to develop a sensor for detecting anti-diuretic hormone (ADH) in an artificial kidney.

“This sensor will ease the life of kidney failure patients and it contributes to the rapid growth of my nation’s nanotechnology field.”

How has your research field already contributed to the world? This research will be a great breakthrough in the field of biosensing. My research work benefits point-of-care-test systems. It is based on Nanoelectromechanical systems (NEMS) to produce highly sensitive, fast-response and low cost biosensors for efficient detection of biomolecules in analytes. This sensor will ease the life of kidney failure patients and it contributes to the rapid growth of my nation’s nanotechnology field.

What advice would you give to younger students regarding attending a conference? From my point of view, I strongly believe that attending a conference is the best platform to build a network with experts and scientists in our area of research. Sharing of ideas and communicating with research experts gives rise to many new ideas.

In addition, I have deep faith that critique from science community peers will lead to a Michelangelo-level of performance in our research work.

Read more about Reena’s research here.


The above applicants are finalists in Sparrho’s Early Career Researcher Prize that awards £500 to early career scientists who is presenting their work at an academic conference. To apply, follow this link to the 5-minute application form and use the Sparrho platform to share your research. Applications close at the end of each month and reviewed on a rolling basis.

Sparrho Early Career Researcher Prize now receiving entries!