Portrait of Roberta Menezes
A PhD alumna who worked on the development of a new liquid biopsy method for cancer
19 09 2020
Portrait of Roberta Menezes

Roberta, originally Brazilian, completed her French Baccalaureate in France before starting her university studies in the UK. During her bachelors in biomedicine, she discovered the emerging field of synthetic biology - a highly interdisciplinary field, seeking to standardize biology by merging biology, physics, engineering, computer science, and chemistry… At this point, interdisciplinarity became the theme of her career. This led her to do a masters in synthetic biology at University College London before she applied to the CRI doctoral program. She then chose a thesis project focused on the use of microfluidics and synthetic biology to develop a cancer diagnostic method based on liquid biopsy with the idea of using microfluidics to miniaturize diagnostic tests to the palm of a hand.

Her PhD focused on the development of a new cancer diagnostic method using microfluidics and synthetic biology. More specifically the aim was to detect and quantify a specific type of nucleic acid molecule known as microRNA, that are present in human fluid samples, such as blood, urine or saliva.These microRNAs can be potential biomarkers for cancer. Their expression levels have been correlated with the development of different diseases, such as cancer. A biomarker signature is then defined by the expression pattern of different microRNAs, which can be correlated to a specific stage of cancer. Roberta thinks one of the toughest challenges that can come with an interdisciplinary project is clearly the involvement of several disciplines. Although her Ph.D. primarily involved molecular biology, she also had to expand her knowledge in synthetic biology and learn completely new skills in microfluidics, which was challenging. According to Roberta, the best way to overcome these kinds of challenges is by being patient and giving yourself the time to learn these new skills.

The FIRE doctoral school gave her an exceptional training in general communication skills. She remembers doing talks and presentations of every length and to a variety of different audiences, which helped her not only understand her thesis project better, but also how to communicate science in general.

The CRI and Université de Paris also helped her to develop a great network worldwide because of the international nature of its students. She met people from all over the world, who have gone on to work in other countries and with whom she still keeps in touch.

Roberta currently works as business developer and chief marketing officer at the Parisian start-up, Eden Microfluidics, which puts its technology at the service of CRI students, free of charge. At Eden, they wish to help researchers and innovators to explore the untapped potential of microfluidic technologies to create products or tools that can make a significant change in health. They develop new microfluidic materials and equipment to help researchers transition from device prototyping to mass production in a seamless manner

Roberta has always been interested in the development of new medical diagnosis tools or in biosensing research for their potential applications in the health field. During her masters at UCL, she worked on the construction of a DNA origami nanopore, for protein sensing and participated in the MIT iGEM competition as part of a team tackling toxin detection in tailings ponds of the oil refinement process.

Although she is no longer performing lab research herself, she can now help other researchers develop their point-of-care diagnostic or biosensing devices into an efficient product. Her experience using microfluidics for these purposes means that she can relate to them and the challenges they may face on a daily basis. Her PhD gave her a lot of perspective on the field and on the world, and she thought her scientific expertise would be of greater help for others.

Now that she is working as a business developer, in the microfluidics industry, she can’t imagine herself doing anything else. She loves using her scientific expertise to help other scientists advance their research and to help her company grow. Her goal for the next 5 years is to build a sales team, a marketing team, and become a market expert to help grow her company’s business and see the field of microfluidics finally break the barrier into industry.

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