Contributing to the field of regenerative medicine
Sam Wu is now in the midst of doing his PhD at the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology (IMBA) in Vienna, researching stem cells regeneration in the hopes of uncovering treatments for multiple cancer types. I had the chance to catch up with him to learn more about his current endeavours and what led him down this remarkable path.
Q: Tell us a little about yourself.
I grew up in Taiwan, and moved to Frankfurt, Germany with my parents at the age of 15 (in 2009). Two years later we moved to Shanghai where I completed final two years of high school. Then I attended the University of Edinburgh in Scotland from 2013-2017. Most recently, I moved to Vienna for my PhD research study in mid-September 2017.
Q: How was the transition from SCIS to university?
At first, I was very impressed by enormous number of sports clubs and society that one could join. What also overwhelmed me were the large lectures (300-400 people) and the fact that semester length became extremely short. Nevertheless, the IB program at SCIS really helped me in the context of academic work. Since I went for a biology degree, self-learning and critical-thinking skills became super handy. It was super cool meeting many others who also did the IB program, and all seemed to know why they chose certain degrees. It made me think about my short- and long-term goals quite early on.
Q: You just recently started your PhD research at IMBA, how is it going so far? Is it what you expected?
It’s going well so far, I would say. My research mainly concerns with adult stem cells, which are cells that reside in specific tissues and carry the ability to self-renew and differentiate into specialized cell types. One important aspect I’m investigating is how cells form tumors and become cancerous. Stem cells and cancer are two of my favorite topics and they are very related topics in my opinion. By using genetic mouse models, I will illuminate the mechanisms of how specific cancer driver genes cause nasty tumors. Hopefully this will provide new perspectives towards treatment of multiple cancer types. At the start, I expected lots of steep learning curves with new challenges. The fascinating part of science is that it stimulates you to think outside the box and requires you to overcome various challenges. IMBA offers a great environment for PhDs, probably one of the very best in Europe. I’ve had many “Wow, did she/he just do that? That’s amazing!” moments. This type of innovative atmosphere really makes it one of my favorite places to be in, and I’m very excited for what the future holds.
Q: What made you decide to go down this path?
There were many events that helped me reach where I am today. I valued internship opportunities, and I dedicated lots of time into science during university. I started my first internship in a research lab when I was in the second year, and at the end of university I had around one year of research experience. To be honest with you, there was one event that motivated me the most. When I was in 11th grade, my grandpa sadly passed away on a Saturday morning because of cancer and he really suffered, like many other cancer patients. One of my long-term goals is therefore to make contribution to our understanding of cancer, and hopefully one day develop better treatments. Whenever I face challenges, remembering that many people are still suffering just pushes me to try harder.
Q: Any advice for people seeking a similar career?
At the start, it’s crucial to try things out by doing internships. Ask lots of questions and have fun! You should really feel you can connect with what you do. It is okay even if you have a bad experience (such as rejection, poor supervision), just try elsewhere again next time. Later when it comes to deciding your career path, proactiveness and perseverance are very important characteristics to have. One should also keep in mind that most of the time things don’t go as planned. It often gets very exhausting to work your way out of the “cloud,” where you feel stuck and don’t know how to progress. At the end of the day, research is about re-trying experiments and confirming your results using different approaches. Like many other professions, attitude matters a lot. Never give up, and remember that the hard work you’ve put in will pay off at some point.
(Mikael Masson is digital media marketing officer of SCIS.)