Contributing to the progress of humanity – what could be better?

Dr Teresa Arnandis Chinesta

“For me success is working in a job which I am passionate about, while at the same time you are contributing to the progress of humanity. My idols are scientists or just normal people who are not afraid of testing new things and are able to induce a complete change in the way people live.”

Originally from Valencia, Spain, Dr Teresa Arnandis Chinesta graduated from the degree of Pharmacy and Optics, both awarded with First Class Honours at the University of Valencia. In 2010, she completed her Master’s study in Molecular Science and after four years of hard and intensive work, she successfully finished her International PhD in Biochemistry and Biomedicine. Being increasingly attracted to the field of breast cancer cell invasion and metastasis, she decided to move to London, joining the Molecular Oncology Department as a Postdoctorate Researcher at Barts Cancer Institute, Queen Mary University.

Her current research is focused on understanding the role of subcellular organelles called centrosomes on tumour invasion with the goal of developing potential biomarkers and targets for the improvement of tailored cancer therapies. Outside the laboratory, Dr Teresa Arnandis mostly spends her time practising sports, travelling and having fun with friends and family. Passion and determination are the clues of her success.

You have invested much time and energy on your career – do you feel fulfilled?

Since I was a child I was always curious about life, about what it is hidden behind facts, why and how things happened, especially those that are too small or covered. My fascination about science continued during my educational process. For instance, I still remain completely astonished on when I first heard about how our body functions, how blood transports oxygen to cells or just the simple (but indeed complicated) fact of muscle contraction or nutrient absorption in the guts.

When I finished my high school I was clear about my professional future, that I would like to be a scientist. Actually, I can say that it is one of the best choices I ever made, since I really enjoy my work. Every day is a mental challenge, you never stop learning new things and you can also contribute to the progress of the humanity. What could be better than this? I feel completely fulfilled because I have achieved all that I would ever dream. 

I am also on the way to becoming a professor, as I really enjoy teaching and sharing my knowledge with the students. I have always admired those teachers who could make their subjects come alive and keep us focused. In my opinion, teaching is an art and great teachers are talented actors that should be given proper recognition, as the future of Science and Research is really in their hands. Furthermore, having friends and family that fully support your decisions also contribute of feeling fulfilled about your career.

What is your drive that keeps you motivated to invest in your professional development?

Obtaining a better version of myself by trying to learn as much as possible is one of the clues that keep me motivated in my work. In addition, the fact that you can contribute to create and improve cancer treatments is enormously rewarding. Not just learning, but I do really love teaching. During my PhD, I realised that I really enjoyed the educational tasks of my job, which involved not just sharing your scientific knowledge about science matters, but also encouraging young people to participate and be passionately curious in science or research.

In addition, one thing that I find also quite motivating is that in science, you sometimes don’t obtain what you expect and this is also a good lesson for life. The best thing of failing is learning about what went wrong and trying to solve it by other means. Indeed, progress is made from unsuccessful experiences. What would happen if Alexander Fleming hadn’t realised about his fungal contamination of his bacterial plates by accident and he would never have discovered penicillin? Staying positive and learning about adverse experiences is the only way to finally achieve success.

On the other hand, if you really find what keeps you motivated you have to dare, going out of your comfort zone and start fighting for what you want. The enemy of life is not death or sadness, it is wastage. The better way to make the most out of life is to implement or launch your personal project, with the idea of doing something that fulfilled yourself. A good rule, which I always follow, is to set my sights on my personal goals, and avoid being led or misled by other’s expectations. As my mother used to say, If you choose a job that you really like, you don’t have to work anymore!

What inspires you toward success?

It depends on what is your concept about success. For me success is working in a job which I am passionate about, while at the same time you are contributing to the progress of humanity. My idols are scientists or just normal people who are not afraid of testing new things and are able to induce a complete change in the way people live, making their lives easier, healthier or comfortable! From the anonymous invention of the wheel, to the new revolutionary social network created by Mark Zuckerberg, there have been millions of pioneer people that have contributed to achieving the standards of quality of life we know today. Thanks to all of them for their great achievements, but also because they have been the source of inspiration of many young and upcoming talents. 

In my opinion success is all up to you, under your deliberate and conscious control. Believe in yourself, be strong, never give up no matter what the circumstances are. Champions take failure as a learning opportunity, so take in all you can, and run with it. Be your best and don’t ever give up.

What have you found the most challenging aspect of your life?

Every day is a challenge and I cannot specify any particular moment. In science, everyday you have to give the best of yourself in order to obtain great results in the experiments, in meetings, in writing a proposal to receive funding, in guiding or teaching students, etc.

As I get older, I think that one of the most challenging aspects would be to combine the professional with my personal life.

Your work is actually based on understanding tumour invasion/progression of breast cancer. Can you tell us more about it?

My PhD project was focused on studying mammary gland from a physiological perspective. Particularly, I have tackled a challenging project based on understanding the role of a protease during mammary gland involution. During the last years of my PhD, I realised that I was mostly attracted by topics related to breast cancer pathology. Breast cancer is a complex set of diseases: every breast tumour contains several types of cancer cells with different characteristics, these being the root of why current therapies do not work for some patients. 

Understanding the fundamental biology of breast cancer has allowed researchers, to develop therapies that selectively kill cancer cells by attacking the molecules that make them malignant. Among these molecules I am currently working on understanding why cancer cells have more than two centrosomes (subcellular organelle involved in mitosis) and how this feature induces a more invasive malignant phenotype, in order to develop novel strategies or new biomarkers to treat breast cancer.