Ana Castillo is an extremely proud Mexican. Before moving to Manchester to study an Msc in Genomic Medicine she volunteered at an organisation which supported young children from her home country who had been diagnosed with cancer. Then, upon finishing her postgraduate studies at Manchester, she instantly returned to Mexico to help pick up the pieces of a destructive natural disaster which took the lives of around 370 people. Discover what drives Ana’s caring and determined nature below and learn more about how a country came together in the wake of that devastating earthquake in September last year.
Why did I cross the ocean to study at the University of Manchester?
Before my arrival to the United Kingdom, I was already amazed at how genomic information can significantly improve a patient’s life expectancy and quality of life. In Mexico, I had the opportunity to experience its relevance when I volunteered and worked, for almost two years, for a non-profit organisation which helped disadvantaged children who had been diagnosed with cancer. This was a bittersweet experience because although I loved working there, I was aware that in Mexico only 56% of them would overcome the disease.
As a result of my work in Mexico, I got inspired to pursue postgraduate studies focused on personalised medicine. I instantly fell in love with the MSc in Genomic Medicine because it provided an opportunity to look at the transition of basic research into clinical settings. In addition to this, the modules for cancer treatment and prevention made me realise that Manchester was the right place for me.
How the programme boosted me to surpass my limits
My time at the University was one of the most exciting and enriching periods of my life. Every day I was challenged by the complex, yet mesmerising, lectures, assignments and other genomic related activities. Besides receiving a top-notch education, I enjoyed the friendly and multicultural environment of the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health. Moreover, the programme always showed to be highly interactive and sought to broaden our knowledge through invitations from other institutions to enrich our modules, such as taking lectures at the University of Liverpool (Wolfson Centre of Personalised Medicine).
The structure and design of the course was both flexible and enjoyable. It allowed me to be part of the Cancer Campaign Ambassador CRUK initiative and to participate at a startup accelerator (Biostars) organised by Panacea Innovation , held by the University of Oxford. Sometimes, it was challenging to complete assignments for both the master’s degree and the Accelerator, but in the end, it was an experience that made me stronger. What’s more, the care and attention provided by my dissertation advisor was always outstanding. Besides her guidance throughout my dissertation at St. Mary’s Hospital, she was supportive when I presented my work at the “XV Symposium of Mexican Studies and Students in the UK ” at Durham University. Her assistance certainly helped me to achieve a distinction in my studies!
How my Manchester lessons helped to contribute to a crisis in Mexico
On September 19th 2017, a deadly earthquake with a magnitude of 7.1 struck Mexico affecting several cities around the country. Around 370 individuals perished that day, and approximately 7290 were injured. Buildings and homes were destroyed or were so severely damaged that subsequent demolition was the only real option. Indeed, this was a hard experience that made Mexicans realise the importance of standing together. We are deeply grateful to those countries that provided help and support in those difficult times, especially the United Kingdom.
After finishing my postgraduate studies, I returned to Mexico to a place that holds a special place in my heart, my former school (ITESM, Mexico City). The earthquake had significantly impaired the institution, and it will soon get torn down to rebuild an entirely new campus. Even so, the University has successfully managed to establish provisional tents and facilities, including a cafeteria and a library, around the former sports fields. Thanks to my preparation at the University of Manchester, I was given the opportunity to give lectures to brilliant students who have been shown to be brave and tenacious in the face of such challenges.
As a new lecturer in this institution, I have enjoyed sharing with eager and proactive students what I learned in Manchester. Although we are still in the process of getting a new campus (due to be completed in 2019), I am currently working to offer the course of Pharmacogenomics for the first time at the Institution and thus, promote education in the field of precision medicine. I am delighted to be part of this project and honoured to contribute to the transformation of the university.
What lies ahead?
Throughout my professional development, whether teaching brilliant students or interacting with young patients, I have discovered that one of the most significant things that you can do is contribute to your surroundings. I have found great passion for cancer research, which has the potential to save lives in the future. Therefore, my biggest aspiration for the future is to conduct postdoctoral studies focused on cancer research, particularly in pediatric brain tumours. As such, I am pursuing a PhD in Cancer Biology .
Recently, I was accepted by the Harvard Medical School Online Learning Platform for the course of Immunology to broaden my knowledge in this field, since nowadays a scientist must have multidisciplinary backgrounds to address complex diseases. With the solid formation I acquired at the University of Manchester and the new preparation that is coming ahead, I do hope to be able to keep transforming my community at a bigger scale and keep promoting my passion for science.
Observe your surroundings and find a need. Address that need by doing something you feel passionate about. Always be proactive! Thank you very much for reading my blog, Don’t hesitate to say hello at my Twitter – @2091_ana!