Developing safe biomaterials to treat disease: inside the work of postdoc Manuel Ahumada Escandon
In the world of academia, postdoctoral fellows are considered some of the most important drivers of innovation and discovery in Canada. This is the second in a series of profiles that will shine a light on postdoctoral research at the uOttawa Faculty of Medicine.
Q and A with Manuel Ahumada Escandon
Q: As a youngster, what excited you about becoming a scientist?
A: Definitely Peter Parker and his alter ego, Spiderman, were responsible for me falling in love with science as a kid! From there, the curiosity to learn more about nature has been my driving force.
Q: How did you arrive at the University of Ottawa Faculty of Medicine?
A: I did my PhD in chemistry at the University of Santiago in Chile, and I first came to uOttawa as a PhD student through the Canadian government’s Emerging Leaders in the Americas Program (ELAP). At the end of my internship here, my supervisor offered me a postdoc position, and I did not think twice! In May 2016, I joined the Bionanomaterials Chemistry and Engineering Laboratory at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute, with an affiliation with the Department of Biochemistry, Microbiology and Immunology under the supervision of Dr. Emilio Alarcon.
Q: What is your team’s research all about?
A: We are working to develop materials with improved mechanical properties and novel antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, which can be applied to different tissues such as heart, skin or eyes.
Q: How can the everyday Canadian relate to your work?
A: Heart diseases are the main cause of death in Canada. While surgeries and treatments save patients’ lives, we’re looking to regenerate the dead tissue after a heart attack, which would allow the heart to recover functionality. We are also looking to generate new synthetic corneal implants for a more accessible treatment for patients with corneal blindness. I’m excited to be developing biomaterials which can be safely used as treatments for diseases, avoiding the pain, side effects and other issues of current treatments.
Q: What’s been the coolest thing about working at uOttawa?
A: In my case, I’ve appreciated the freedom to try every idea that comes to mind, in terms of both my research and the equipment I use in my work. It has been a great experience – I have gained a spectrum of new skills, improved my teaching, and grown my network. I do not believe that we become postdoctoral fellows for money, but rather to continue learning, specializing, teaching and networking.
Q: What are you up to when you’re not doing research?
A: In my short amount of spare time, I enjoy running, playing the guitar, reading a non-science-related book, or watching Netflix.
The Postdoctoral Fellowship: a critical rung on the ladder to scientific success
A postdoctoral fellowship is completed between a PhD and a permanent faculty position in science, helping lay the foundation for a successful career in health research and science.
Securing a university faculty position is competitive, with perhaps hundreds of applicants for a single job posting. Catching an employer’s eye requires producing quality research and work experience with top institutions and investigators. Postdoctoral fellowships help researchers do this.
In not having to juggle the course load that a student would, postdocs are able to devote more time to research, and contribute enormously to an institution’s research and publication intensity. Training to become principal investigators themselves, postdocs also mentor and train lab members by sharing techniques, knowledge and ideas, and are instrumental to the smooth running of many laboratories.
Photo credit: Dr. Emilio Alarcon lab