Meet Our Lab Heroes Awards™ 2022 Highly Commended Nominees: Uloma Beauty Elvis-Offiah

Meet Our Lab Heroes Awards™ 2022 Highly Commended Nominees: Uloma Beauty Elvis-Offiah
11 months ago

Meet Our Lab Heroes Awards™ 2022 Highly Commended Nominees: Uloma Beauty Elvis-Offiah

We’re delighted to introduce another of our Lab Heroes Awards™ 2022 Highly Commended nominees! Uloma Beauty Elvis-Offiah is a PhD candidate in Physiology who is currently working as a lecturer at the University of Benin, Nigeria. Uloma was nominated by colleagues who praised not only her professionalism and zeal for knowledge, but also her ability to inspire and encourage other women and girls in STEM. 

Uloma Elvis-Offiah is currently pursuing her PhD in Physiology at the University of Arizona in the United States. Her research typically focuses on gastrointestinal cancers, particularly gastrinomas. Uloma’s work tries to unravel the mystery of how duodenal and gastric gastrinomas typically arise. She is working with Dr. Juanita L. Merchant at the University of Arizona Cancer Center (UACC). Dr. Merchant’s Lab is focused on specific genetic mutations in patients that encourages the possible development of these malignant tumors. 

Before moving to the US, Uloma completed her undergraduate studies in Science Laboratory Technology with First Class honors at the University of Benin in Nigeria in 2010 and her MSc in Physiology with distinction at the same institution in 2016. Uloma has been working as a lecturer at the Department of Science Laboratory Technology, Faculty of Life Sciences at the University of Benin in Nigeria since July 2012. She has helped to train, mentor, and provide academic and professional guidance to young scientists who major in Physiology and Pharmacology in her University. She has also helped to co-supervise the research projects and lab work that students’ carry out at various points in their academic careers. In addition, she has had successful research collaborations with both local and international scientists, despite the limited resources present to them at her University. In this capacity she has more than 13 co-authored publications that have been published in esteemed journals, as well as two book chapters.

We were delighted to chat to Uloma about her current research, her female role models, and the importance of celebrating women in STEM!


Congratulations, Uloma! How did it feel when you found out that your colleagues had nominated you as their Lab Hero?

It felt amazing and extremely exciting to be nominated. It was an honor for me to be named among such an outstanding group of nominees! Again, I'm really intrigued and humbled because I had no idea that my colleagues thought so highly of me. I want to express my gratitude to Hello Bio for this remarkable honor and to the colleagues who took their time to nominate me.


How did it feel when you found out you had been chosen by our panel as 'Highly Commended'?

When I received the email from Hello Bio informing me that the panel had selected me for their "Highly Commended" prize, I couldn't believe it. I had to read the message more than ten times. Could this really be true? It turns out to be true with a bang! I reached out to my colleagues to share my gratitude. I had never imagined that my efforts would now be acknowledged on a global scale. I greatly value this. I can promise you that receiving this recognition has elevated my motivation and zeal to a new level.


Why do you think it’s so important to celebrate life science researchers, and what more could be done to show life scientists recognition?

As scientists, we put in a ton of effort on projects that have a big impact on the environment and life, yet our works are largely concealed. Even when you prepare your findings for publication, you must include enough detail to support the reviewers' recommendations. The completion of all of this can take months, even years. Therefore, encouraging life science researchers in any way will help them stay motivated and stay on top of their projects.

While the Lab Heroes Awards are a great start, I think that additional prizes would be terrific, and Hello Bio has really excelled in these areas. Examples of these awards include funding for research and conferences, education and professional development, office and lab supplies, among others.


What do you enjoy most about working in STEM?

Being able to work through problems in a classroom or at work has helped me do the same in life. I like using technology to come up with solutions to specific analytical issues. This has become even more sweet as technology has continued to progress.


Did you always want to be a scientist when you were younger, and if so, why?

Yes, even as a young child, I was fascinated by and adored science. I've always been interested in issues that relate to life and the environment and have a strong desire to discover solutions. My desire was to study medicine but due to cost, I couldn’t. However, I thank God that I am where I am today.


Your colleague praised your support for women in science - what are the biggest challenges facing female scientists today?

The marginalization of women in STEM on a global scale is a fact that cannot be overstated. In Sub-Saharan Africa, specifically Nigeria, the scenario is the same. Indeed, this has been greatly influenced by some cultural traditions in Africa that consider women as "things" to be seen rather than heard. Women in science encounter numerous overt and covert types of discrimination. Therefore, a handful of us put ourselves out there to overcome these obstacles. I personally like to encourage and persuade young women to pursue careers in science using myself as an example.


Can you tell us a bit more about what you're working on in the lab currently?

My work focuses mostly on gastrointestinal cancers, specifically gastrinomas. Gastrinomas are a subtype of gastroenteropancreatic neuroendocrine tumor (GEP-NET) that secretes the peptide hormone gastrin and typically arise in the growth factor-rich Brunner's glands of the duodenum. They are the most malignant GEP-NETs that can develop spontaneously or as a result of a multiple endocrine neoplasia (MEN1) gene mutation. Attempts to unravel the pathobiology of these tumors may help to explain their distinct clinical characteristics, but our present understanding of the disease's signaling mechanisms and causal factors is limited. The aim of my research is to provide insight on the usual pathophysiology of gastrinomas. To complete our study, we attempt to duplicate tumors in mice and in vitro models by producing comparable mutations, a time-consuming and difficult task.


What does a typical day in the lab look like for you?

My activities in the lab vary from day to day. However, I perform a range of responsibilities such as transforming and purifying plasmids, preparing media, caring for my cell cultures, transfecting and treating my cells, performing luciferase or western blot assays, analyzing and interpreting data, and writings.


What do you think are the biggest challenges facing life scientists at the moment?

From my perspective, I believe that funding and incessant rejections are the most significant drawbacks to life scientists. There is limited funding available for a large number of scientists, and competition is fierce. Furthermore, reviewers' perspectives differ, when you get the opportunity to apply for a grant or fellowship, you have no idea what the reviewer will say about your plan, and even the most minor of errors will result in your application being denied. So, I believe that there are many beautiful and brilliant ideas that are not funded.


What key piece of advice would you give to a younger scientist just starting out in their career?

Younger scientists like myself should be on the lookout for hard work, diligence, and consistency. Every task, no matter how minor it appears, necessitates rigor. Also, I will say, be immune to rejection because it is more frequent at this level.


How do you see your career developing in the future/where do you see yourself in 10 years?

My primary goal in pursuing a PhD is to become a competent researcher capable of conducting independent study in my chosen field. Even though I have been in academia for so long, I am still adjustable, thus I have no rigid plans for the time being.


Which scientists working today do you admire the most?

I have two significant women who have influenced my career path. Dr. Enitome E. Bafor is one of them. She oversaw both my undergraduate and master's degrees. My Ph.D. supervisor is Dr. Juanita L. Merchant. Both are strong and resilient women who have worked tirelessly to reach the pinnacle of their profession, and I aspire to be like them.


What’s your favourite science quote?

“When you think that you didn't get the result you wanted, you just gained experience.”


Thank you so much for speaking to us Uloma! 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 Uloma:

And you can meet our other Lab Heroes Awards™ 2022 prize-winners here.


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