Bringing analytical chemistry knowledge to the Human Genetics department

Having a bachelor, master and Ph.D in chemistry, Elena Sánchez López shifted to a more biological research for her postdoc. All of her studies she did at the University of Alcala, in Spain, before she applied for a LEaDing fellowship at Leiden University. 

Elena Sanchez LopezIn June 2018, Dr Sánchez López's research proposal got accepted; a prestigious Marie Sklodowska-Curie fellowship from the LEaDing Fellows programme enabled her to come to Leiden for a two year period, in professor Dorien Peters’ research group. Sánchez López: ‘When I received the good news from LUMC, I was so happy.  My postdoc position is at Human Genetics, which was new for me. But from the start, I have been experiencing great support from colleagues at LUMC and my supervisors. That really helps to get a kick-start when you arrive here as a postdoc.’

Understanding polycystic kidney disease

Sánchez López’s research concentrates on studying the altered metabolites upon disease. ‘When a person has an illness, you can study what the metabolites are related to that disorder. These molecules can act as biomarkers, which can help in diagnose, predict a particular disease or give information on the effectiveness of different treatments.'

'The aim of my project is to understand the mechanisms of polycystic kidney disease, a genetic disease which causes the development of large cysts in the kidneys. I mainly focus on understanding how certain metabolites are altered in mouse models, in order to find the affected metabolic pathways.'

   I hope my study can contribute to finding an effective medicine or cure, as well as a biomarker to predict the disease'

'There is no effective cure yet for this disease, which in most cases results in transplantation and dialysis. I hope my study can contribute to finding an effective medicine or cure, as well as a biomarker to predict whether someone will get this disease so that preventive measures can be taken.’

Mutual benefits

Sánchez López is broadening her personal horizon at the same time. ‘My background lies in chemistry, and working in the field of molecular is something different. Not only am I broadening my scope, which I find very useful and interesting, but I am also bringing analytical chemistry knowledge and expertise to this research group embedded in the Human Genetics department. I am very grateful that I am also able to work closely with the LUMC Nephrology department; they support me and give me access to patients data and urine samples, to correlate the data obtained in the mouse models to patients, for example.’ 

   I am bringing analytical chemistry knowledge to the Human Genetics department'

In order to further study polycystic kidney disease, Sánchez López also planned a collaboration with OcellO, a biotech company at the Leiden Bioscience Park, adjacent to LUMC. ‘They have a unique model to study polycystic kidney disease based on 3D cell samples, so that I can study both in vitro and in vivo mechanisms underlying the disease. Unfortunately, the corona crisis got in the way of this “field trip”. I have developed a method to properly measure these samples, but now I have to wait for when we can take the next step with real samples.’ 

Kaleidoscope of data

The LEaDing Fellows program enables Sánchez López to invest in her career development. Thankfully, she has not experienced too much delay due to corona. ‘My contract is for two years, it will end in November 2020. As a lot of my work is data analysis – it is a big kaleidoscope of data that I have to unravel – I was still making progress the last weeks, even though some experiments have been postponed. I always try to stay positive. I guess that is a personal trait that a postdoc has to have.'

'Otherwise, you will be out of competition in no time. It’s the long mile. If something does not go according to plan, you have to be resilient. And a good planner: while focusing on your research, you have to stay alert for future funding options and faculty positions. You have to play all sides of the court. Earlier this year, I have proposed for a VENI grant. But due to corona, this process too is delayed. I hope to get a decisive reaction before my contract expires.’ 

Elena Sánchez López was co-funded through the H2020 Marie Sklodowska Curie program under contract number 707404

More information:
LEaDing fellows Post Doc Program

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