Originally from Cuba, predoctoral trainee Giselle Lopez Fernandez is cultivating her scientific career in the United States. In the laboratory of leading vaccine researcher and immunologist Dr. David Weiner, she is working on immunotherapies for HIV using novel techniques developed in the Weiner Lab, namely DNA-launched antibodies that harness the power of genetic material in the body to create a personal antibody factory to fight against disease. More specifically, her project aims to enhance immune system response with antibodies that broadly neutralize HIV infected cells.
In a Q&A with Fernandez, she discusses her scientific background, hurdles in the lab, and the importance of teamwork at Wistar.
Where are you from and what is your scientific background?
I moved to the United States 9 years ago from Cuba. I lived for 7 years in Georgia where I attended college and graduated in 2020 with a major in Biology with a Biochemistry concentration. While in college, I became interested in research inspired by amazing science professors. I participated in summer research programs at Georgia State University and The University of Pennsylvania. From there, I knew I wanted to continue my career in research.
Did you come from a family of scientists? Who inspired you growing up to pursue science?
No one in my family is a scientist. While in school back in Cuba I had an amazing 7th grade Biology teacher who encouraged me to participate in science events and contests. I think that was the initial inspiration for my very curious mind.
What drew you to Wistar and what do you like about working here?
The amazing science made here, and the reputation of the Institute drew me to Wistar. I was particularly interested in the use of Dr. Weiner’s DNA platform for vaccines against infectious diseases.
What is your favorite part of your role and your day?
One of my favorite parts is to be able to work with amazing scientists and constantly learning from them. In my day to day, it’s very rewarding to see an experiment finally work after much optimization and troubleshooting. Many times in science, things don’t go the way we expect, but there is always an answer to find. This answer, whatever it might be, is a small piece fitting into the bigger picture – a seemingly minute, yet equally important contribution to scientific knowledge.
Do you have a challenging moment in your career so far and how did you overcome it?
I have had several challenging moments. Doing, reading, and communicating science in a second language is challenging. Most recently, I’ve had some challenges with novel assays not working. I’m learning to cope with these hurdles by not being afraid or ashamed of seeking help and asking questions. No one person has all the answers. Science is about collaboration. It’s teamwork.
What advice do you have for someone who wants to pursue science?
Get involved in research programs and courses as early as possible. This will allow you to identify the areas that excite you the most and help you strengthen your skills. Ask questions. Seek help. Get in the habit of reading the latest research papers in your field constantly. Participate in seminars, workshops, listen to what your peer scientists are working on.
Congratulations on receiving the Wistar Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Travel award. What does this opportunity mean for you?
Thank you! This award is an honor and the funds that come with it will facilitate my attendance to the 10th International Workshop on HIV Persistence during Therapy. This is an important meeting closely related to my field of study. It is unanimously recognized as the reference workshop on HIV reservoirs and eradication strategies. The workshop will be an excellent opportunity for networking and to be directly exposed to new, unpublished data and a panel of experts that will sum up the current advances in the field.