Unique Scientist: Maria-Victoria Bermudez

Time to meet Maria-Victoria Bermudez (She/her)! Maria-Victoria is cancer immunologist originally from Venezuela and currently working towards her PhD at King’s College London in the United Kingdom!

What kind of scientist are you?
I’m a PhD Student in Cancer Immunology. I’m interested in understanding how the immune system responds to drugs called immune checkpoint inhibitors. These drugs have revolutionised the way that many cancers are treated (most notably melanoma and lung cancer), and have been met with unprecedented success. Cancer can be quite hard for the immune system to find because cancer is made up of your own cells; how does the immune system distinguish between healthy and cancer cells? We’re met with a bit of a challenge. To make matters more complicated, cancers are very good at hiding from the immune system and shutting it off to avoid getting killed. Cancer immunotherapy tries to overcome this problem by releasing the “brakes” of the immune system, forcing it to become super activated and better at killing cancer. But as you might imagine, it might not be great for the rest of the body to have super activated cells that specialise in killing. Alas, we are met with another problem: these drugs can have very serious side effects (immune-related adverse events) that can damage healthy tissues. I’m trying to figure out the main culprits responsible for these side effects.

What made you want to become a scientist?
My high school biology teacher, Dr. Wells. Her love for science shone through in her classes and I knew that I wanted to be involved with science in some way. Coupled with my want to help others and my immense curiosity for the way the world works, once I learned about research I knew it was the career for me. I’ve been super lucky to have had amazing mentors throughout university who have further inspired me to pursue a career in science (Thank you Dr. Louisa James and Dr. Viji Draviam).

“It’s always been hard for me to identify with being from a certain place and feeling like I fit in, but I think I have found a bit of a home within the scientific community and that brings me a lot of happiness.”

Maria-Victoria Bermudez

What makes you a #UniqueScientist?
I’ve been an immigrant my whole life. I was born in Venezuela and shortly after my family moved to Australia where I lived for 6 years. When I was 9 years old I moved to the USA and stayed there for middle school and high school. After graduating high school, I moved to the UK to go to university, and was able to do so because I am also Spanish (Mom’s side of the family is all Spanish). So when people ask me, “Where are you from?” it can be a bit of a lengthy answer.

It’s always been hard for me to identify with being from a certain place and feeling like I fit in, but I think I have found a bit of a home within the scientific community and that brings me a lot of happiness.

What’s something cool you do outside of work?
In my free time I love boxing, singing and playing guitar, as well as learning languages (currently French and Swedish).

If you had one wish and could change anything in science, what would it be?
I would wish for public understanding and support of all science. “We ignore public understanding of science at our peril” Eugenie Clark.

“I’ve been an immigrant my whole life.”

Maria-Victoria Bermudez

Who has inspired you the most in your journey to where you are now?
All of my mentors in STEM have been women! How cool!
High School IB Biology Teacher (Dr. Wells); Undergraduate supervisors (Dr. Louisa James and Dr. Viji Draviam), and Prof. Aine McKnight

Let’s end on a high note! What’s something you’ve done this week that you’re proud of?
My first ever paper (review) was accepted for publication!!


WomenInSTEM, #LatinasInSTEM

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