Q & A with Dr. Alexia Eliades

In celebration of February 11, International Day of Women & Girls in Science

‘The most rewarding aspect of our work is that the research we do and the genetic tests we develop can empower doctors to make better informed decisions that can improve patient outcome’

Dr. Alexia Eliades is the Oncology Team Leader at NIPD Genetics. She is part of the Research & Development department and she is responsible for designing and developing genetic tests for the prediction, detection and clinical management of cancers. Dr. Alexia Eliades is currently overseeing the PreSENTIA hereditary cancer screening and ForeSENTIA tissue biopsy tests.

How did you decide to study science?

Ever since I remember myself as a child I was always fascinated by science and had a curiosity to understand nature. I was fortunate enough to have teachers that inspired me and encouraged me to pursue a scientific field of study.

How did you decide on the specific field of science?

I got interested in cancer genetics because it’s a field that I could apply my academic background in understanding the molecular mechanisms implicated in cancer development. Cancer genetics and diagnostics has progressed rapidly in recent years as technology has enabled an unprecedented understanding of the etiology of this disease. I chose this field because it can revolutionize the way cancer is diagnosed and paves the way for personalized treatment that can impact patients’ lives.

What aspects of your field do you find the most rewarding?

The most rewarding aspect of our work is that the research we do and the genetic tests we develop can empower doctors to make better informed decisions that can improve patient outcome.

What qualities do you find indispensable for a researcher?

I believe that first and foremost you have to have the inner motivation to pursue science. This is a path that entails hard work, dedication, patience, critical thinking and a continuous curiosity to pursue new scientific questions.

What surprising lessons have you learned along the way that changed the way you used to think?

When I was still in my bachelor studies I had this perception that I would focus only on a certain field of study (neuroscience). Moving into my PhD I realized that in order to develop as a scientist the most important part was to find a mentor that can really inspire me, the scientific field came second to that. That is why I decided to pursue my PhD in biochemistry where I was fortunate to have a mentor that guided me and helped me to grow as a scientist.

If a young girl interested in science walked up to you for advice, what would you tell her?

I would tell her what I would say to any young person interested in science. This is an exciting time to be involved in science and especially life sciences. New technologies enable scientists to push the boundaries of our current knowledge. It’s an exciting journey of discovery but it entails motivation, dedication and passion. Find what your motivation is, culture your skills and be exposed to different scientific fields in order to find what inspires you the most. Be open to criticism from your peers and learn to work as part of a team. These are the keys to scientific growth and success.

What do you think are the biggest challenges for girls and women in science? What are the best ways to overcome these?

The biggest challenge for a woman in science is to balance her career and parenthood. It’s not easy but with the support and understanding of your family and with the proper work environment you can overcome these challenges.

What has changed the most since you became a scientist and how different do you think the role of women in the scientific world would be in 10 years?

During my academic journey I was fortunate to have inspiring female mentors that had leading roles in their academic institutions. However, I could see that women in these positions are underrepresented. A lot of young female scientist move into different professions due to the difficulty in advancing in science. I believe this will change in upcoming years. Engaging young girls into science from an early age, eliminating negative stereotypes regarding the role of women in today’s society and empowering them to pursue a scientific field of study through proper mentorship and guidance can help to increase women’s representation in science. This can have immense benefits not only for science but for society as a whole.

If you could have been a part of any past or future scientific discovery what would that be?

It’s the dream of every scientist to be part of scientific breakthroughs. If I have to pick one I would say it would be the discovery of CRISPR, a breakthrough gene editing mechanism that enables scientist to repair faulty genes. CRISPR allows scientists to study potential therapies to treat a number of diseases including cancer.

Who is a scientist that you look up to and why?

There are many incredible scientists that I look up to. I’m inspired by the work of many scientists that laid the foundations of modern genetics such as Rosalind Franklin as well as scientists that currently are revolutionizing the field of genetics and genome editing such as George Church, Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier.

Dr. Alexia Eliades received her BSc in Biological Sciences from the University of Athens. She went on to pursue a PhD at the Boston University School of Medicine in cancer biology and was a Post-Doctoral Fellow at Cancer Research UK in the University of Manchester. Dr. Eliades has earned a number of grants and fellowships, has written several publications in scientific journals and has presented her work in numerous conferences throughout the world. Dr. Eliades has been with NIPD Genetics since 2016.

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