FP7 Marie Skłodowska-Curie COFUND Programme
De la Mora is a Mexican researcher, currently holding a postdoctoral position
at CEA/IBS (Institute of Structural Biology). He agreed to give us an interview
to share his experience as an Enhanced
I studied at the University of Mexico, where I got both my masters and PhD in Biochemistry, more precisely in crystallography. During my PhD I carried out a 6-month internship at the University of Oxford (United Kingdom). I held a two-year postdoc position in the Institute of Chemistry at the University of Mexico, before applying for a position at CEA where I started in January 2015.
My research project is entitled "The dynamic personality of enzymes studied by kinetic X-ray crystallography using synchrotron radiation and X-ray free electron lasers". To put it simply, my host laboratory at CEA, in collaboration with other groups, aims at improving treatment for the Alzheimer's disease by
developing inhibitors for a specific enzyme, acetylcholinesterase (AChE), that
hydrolyses the neurotransmitter acetylcholinesterase. AChE is a molecular
target for drugs aiming at treating Alzheimer's disease, and is also relevant because its inhibition by neurotoxic
agents can cause intoxication.
The project is going well – we had some good results, even though a great deal of additional experiments is ahead of us. IBS is quite a big laboratory but I am part of a subgroup of 6 people.
I like the practical aspect of my field. It involves lots of experiments because we have to try out new ideas. I really enjoy this mix of fundamental and applied science. Furthermore, in all modesty, what we develop and discover as scientists in biochemistry benefits our society at large. It's really rewarding when you make progress, because Alzheimer's disease is, to say the least, a widely spread human health issue.
We mostly speak French at the lab but the institute is quite international. It enables the meeting of different ways of working and I reckon it benefits the laboratory. Language-wise, it was hard at first but after a few months, I started grasping basic elements and it got much easier to fit in. Thankfully, all the members of my laboratory are very friendly and now I really enjoy life in France.
Beyond the prestige involved by the mention of CEA on my CV, a strength of my stay here is the freedom I am given. As we have amazing facilities here, as soon as we have an idea we can pretty much get down to it at once. In addition, my colleagues are always willing to take part in experiments – the work atmosphere is quite enjoyable.
To be completely honest, the other fellows and I were not expecting much from this training session. In the end however, we were pleasantly surprised. It was actually really useful. Four days is a bit long because we had to come all the way from Grenoble but it was worth it.
I would love to stay in France but competition is really hard in this country – and in Europe in general for that matter. However, it would also be difficult to go back to Mexico, where I would not have access to the same cutting-edge facilities. In Europe, I have unique possibilities in terms of research.
CEA is a French government-funded technological research organisation in four main areas: low-carbon energies, defense and security, information technologies and health technologies. A prominent player in the European Research Area, it is involved in setting up collaborative projects with many partners around the world.