Meet Our Lab Heroes Awards™ 2021 Highly Commended Nominees: Verónica Pérez de la Cruz
We’re delighted to introduce another of our Lab Heroes Awards™ 2021 Highly Commended nominees! Verónica Pérez de la Cruz of the National Institute of Neurology and Neurosurgery in Mexico was nominated by her colleagues in the Lab Leader category for her inspirational work and expertise in her field. They praised her enthusiasm and unconditional support for young people, particularly young Mexican women working in STEM.
Verónica received a bachelor’s degree in Pharmaceutical Biological Chemistry as well as a master’s degree in Biological Science from the UNAM, and a PhD in Experimental Biology from the UAM-I. She completed a postdoctoral fellowship with Dr. Robert Schwarcz at the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center, University of Maryland, Baltimore, and founded the Neurobiochemistry and Behavior Lab in the National Institute of Neurology and Neurosurgery, Mexico.
Over the past 10 years, she has been focused on kynurenine pathway and redox modulation. Her group described redox properties of Kynurenine pathway metabolites, new routes of kynurenic acid production and their effects on brain tissue exposed to different pro-oxidants. More recently, she turned her attention to the relationship between kynurenines and cognitive impairment induced by heavy metals exposure, showing that kynurenic acid is involved in this paradigm, and now she is looking to modulate its production to improve cognitive impairment.
We spoke to Verónica about the Lab Heroes Awards, her current research, the challenges facing life science researchers today, and her advice for early career life scientists…
Congratulations, Verónica! How did it feel when you found out that your colleagues had nominated you as their Lab Hero?
It is a great honor for me to receive this special nomination. I cannot describe the mix of feelings. I consider myself very lucky to work with wonderful people, whom I really appreciate, and I know they share a love of science with me.
How did it feel when you found out you were named as ‘Highly Commended’?
When I read all the messages that some of my students posted, I felt so happy, but at the same time I wanted to cry, because I was deeply moved. I love science and I have tried to do my best, but realizing that the students recognized my work and have enjoyed their time working in my lab was a wonderful moment. I feel so grateful for their positive feedback which is very encouraging. I realize that being ‘Highly Commended’ is a huge responsibility, because there are people who believe in me; this encourages me to keep doing my best.
Why do you think it’s so important to celebrate life science researchers, and what more could be done to show life scientists recognition?
I think it is important to recognize researchers, as Hello Bio does, since this gives the researchers the opportunity to share their scientific life and work around the world and, in this way, to find new collaborations and financial support to continue their scientific work. This also encourages young people to become researchers.
You were commended in the ‘Lab Leader’ category. What do you think are the most important qualities for effective leadership in the lab?
I think that being a Lab Leader is a huge responsibility; you never stop working. I think that an important quality is the ability to share with your lab team that even with limited resources you should do science with quality and be able to innovate and resolve problems.
Did you always want to be a scientist when you were younger, and if so, why?
Yes, I always wanted to be a scientist. When I was a child, I always asked about everything and even if I did not know the answers, my parents encouraged me to find them.
What do you enjoy most about working in STEM?
To think that I can contribute to improve the quality of life.
Can you tell us a bit more about what you’re working on in the lab currently?
We are focused on the kynurenine pathway and how its metabolites are involved in redox and cognitive processes. We are studying how the enzymes of this pathway and its metabolites change during the lifespan as well as in which kind of cerebral cells these metabolites are expressed and active. We also study the modulation of this pathway and its effects on aging and several neurotoxic models.
What does a typical day in the lab look like for you?
The day starts with some coffee or breakfast with colleagues and students, and during this time we talk about how we could help to improve the world. Then, the working day starts with a meeting with the students to plan the experiments that we are going to do or to discuss the results and the next steps in our research process.
What do you think are the biggest challenges facing life scientists at the moment?
I consider that the biggest challenge for researchers is finding financial support to continue doing our scientific work. We also need financial support to open postdoc positions or to give scholarships to young scientists.
What advice would you give to life scientists just starting out in their careers?
Scientific life is hard because there is always a new question and many alternative ways to try to get answers. Sometimes we do not find them easily, but that’s what makes research so exciting. Believe in yourself and in what you love, be honest, do your best and work with people who can help you find the solutions. Never let yourself feel frustrated.
How do you see your career developing in the future/where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I see myself working in the laboratory and proposing new projects that include working with great collaborators and students around the world.
Which scientists working today do you most admire?
I admire Robert Schwarcz, who is one of the pioneers of the Kynurenine Pathway. He is also a great human and very patient. He has expanded his lab and has made many contributions to the field.
Are there any other specific issues or initiatives in science that you are involved with or are passionate about?
I am part of a group of scientists in Mexico who are trying to create activities to encourage children to like science, because they are the future.
And finally... what’s your favourite science quote?
"What we know is a drop, what we don't know is an ocean." - Isaac Newton
Thank you so much for the interview, Verónica! And congratulations once again on being highly commended! We look forward to keeping in touch with you and following your career as it progresses.
Connect with Verónica:
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