To start 2017, we have a Q and A with Melissa Bowerman, a postdoctoral fellow working on SMA at the University of Oxford.
It is hard to pinpoint the exact moment I decided I wanted to be a scientist as I think it was more a natural transition than an aha moment. I became passionate about the field of biology in high school in Mme Goulet's Biology Course. From that moment on, I pursued undergraduate and graduate studies that were fueled by this initial spark as well as by the many researchers and professors I encountered along the way.
How did you come to work on SMA?
Randomly. I was looking for a lab in which to undertake my graduate studies and stumbled upon an advertisement for a position in Rashmi Kothary's group. During my interview, Rashmi gave me an overview of the multiple projects that were available and I immediately picked the one on SMA, which was to investigate SMN's role in neurons. I liked the basic but yet tricky question: What does this protein do?
What would you be if you weren’t a scientist?
I love baking and reading. I would open a small coffee and cake shop stacked with books in the middle of a beautiful nowhere.
If you are not in the lab you are...
With my family. My two kids (presently 9 and 7) take up most of my spare time. I do make a point however to take some weekly "me" time, which includes jogging, biking, yoga and Friday pub night with colleagues.
Describe yourself in three words.
Rational. Passionate. Determined.
What has been the most important moment of your career so far?
Moving to Oxford. It is truly a wonderful academic environment that has allowed me to not only accomplish the research I have set out to do but also develop amazing connections with the entire SMA community (families, charities, researchers and clinicians).
What is your most memorable finding relating to SMA?
At the end of my Ph.D. in Rashmi Kothary's lab, I uncovered that pancreatic and metabolic defects occur in SMA mice and patients. Via this discovery, I have met Anne Meguiar and Mary Bodzo, two amazing women that have dedicated a better part of their life to better understand how metabolic perturbations influence SMA severity and progression. This intimate connection with members of the SMA community has allowed me to focus and expand my research program.
What is your favourite conference location?
California. I have been to San Diego, San Francisco and Los Angeles for conferences. I love the food, weather and coastline.
What is the best scientific advice you ever received?
Do not have expectations for your results. Simply ask the question.
If you could start your career all over again, are there things you would do differently?
Not really. From Ottawa to Montpellier to Oxford I have met amazing people, visited incredible places, all with the added bonus of pursuing my scientific career.
In your opinion, what makes a good scientist?
Determination, creativity, perseverance...and a little bit of serendipity.
Where do you see the SMA research field in the next 10 years?
With the recent FDA approval of SPINRAZA in the US, the next 10 years will definitely be entirely different than the last 10. I think we will see an explosion of new combinatorial therapeutic approaches that will be combined to the promising SMN gene therapies.