Ana Beloqui is an Assistant Professor and Research Associate from the Belgian Fund for Scientific Research (F.R.S.-FNRS) at the Université Catholique de Louvain (UCLouvain, Brussels, Belgium), and group leader in the Advanced Drug Delivery and Biomaterials lab at the Louvain Drug Research Institute from the UCLouvain. She holds a Bachelors in Pharmacy and a M.Sc. in Pharmacology, and she holds a PhD in Nanomedicine from the University of the Basque Country (Spain). Beloqui's main research interests are the investigation of the oral drug delivery route (especially focused on the oral delivery of peptides, proteins and antibodies) and the interaction of the drug delivery system with the gastrointestinal epithelium. This includes the study of the mechanisms of transport that drive the access of the drug delivery system into systemic circulation. Her research in mainly focused on the development of innovative oral drug delivery systems for the treatment of gastrointestinal diseases, mainly type 2 diabetes and inflammatory bowel diseases.
Ana Beloqui has been awarded by the European Research Council (ERC) with its prestigious 2019 ERC Starting Grants in order to start her career.
Questions for Luminaries
1. What sparked your interest in science in general and drug delivery/nanomedicine in particular?
During my pharmacy studies, I really enjoyed the time I spent in the lab during the practical sessions. In concrete, I really enjoyed pharmaceutical technology. I already knew I didn’t want to work in a pharmacy but I was not sure about what to do, so I talked to one of the professors in the department and asked to work with her in the lab. I was honest: I didn’t know if that was something I would enjoy doing, so I started following the lessons in the master and conducting a research project in the department. It turned out I loved it!
2. Did you experience a significant turning point or defining moment during your career?
This is a difficult one. I think that the decisions that you take all along your thesis, postdoc and personal life define how it will end. If I had to choose one, it would probably be my postdoc.
I came to Brussels to the Advanced Drug Delivery and Biomaterials lab at the UCLouvain in 2012 during my thesis to conduct in vitro transport studies with my formulation. After the 7 months I spent in the lab, Prof. Véronique Préat offered me a postdoctoral position to work in the European project TRANS-INT in nanomedicines for oral peptide delivery. In the beginning I declined because I was getting married and I did not see how that would work. But, back in Spain the possibility of getting a position was really remote, and my husband knew research was my passion, so he encouraged me to accept: I got married and left Spain 3 months after getting married, without him! Then he joined me, I got different postdoctoral grants, I applied for a permanent position, etc etc. It was the most difficult decision, but the best decision I have ever taken in my life. I probably owe my husband my research career.
3. According to you, what are the most exciting developments in your research field?
I love all those formulations that are inspired by nature or mimick the human body. I follow a lot the work conducted by Prof. Jeff Karp at the Brigham and Womens’s Hospital in Boston. I have watched his videos hundred times: so inspiring!
4. What is the best piece of professional advice you have received and from whom?
To balance work and personal life, not to lose my mind in the process. So important!
5. Would you change anything about your career path if you could start over?
Nothing. There were many difficult moments that have been compensated by so many incredible moments, so many incredible people that I got to know…I will always remember my PhD as some of the most incredible years in my life. This said…the path is not always easy!
6. What advice would you give to someone who is starting their scientific career?
Be ready to fail! You are going to fail many more times than the times you are going to succeed. I applied to 8 postdoctoral grants before getting even one, but here I am today. You learn a lot in the process, you appreciate failing…in the end.
7. How do you manage a healthy balance between work and personal life?
Good question! Well, I have 2 children and no family nearby that can help me in the event of an inconvenience, so I have learnt to be more efficient and set priorities. I try to spent as much time as possible with my family and the 3 hours before my kids go to bed are sacred. This doesn’t mean that I do not end up working until 1am (or later…ehem) when having deadlines, or working weekends when necessary…And I need to do sports! I go running twice per week.
8. What do you enjoy doing outside of the lab? What are your hobbies/interests?
Being honest, after becoming a mother I think I started appreciating and enjoying the little good things in life: a nice dinner in a restaurant (this, probably without kids!), a walk under the sun on a Saturday afternoon, an afternoon with friends…
9. Why would you advise scientists to become CRS and Local Chapter members and what are the membership’s benefits?
I was a member of the Spanish-Portuguese CRS local chapter and back then I thought it was a great opportunity to meet what others in your own country are doing and starting collaborations. Sometimes we look abroad to collaborate when we can do it with our neighbours, but we didn’t know it! Creating a network is so important! When you are a PhD student you face problems during your research and you think you are the only one having those problems, but then you discuss it with other PhD students and you get to know that you are not the only one! I have solved more than one problem discussing with colleagues. I think the CRS is an amazing platform to establish a network, to listen to top scientists in the drug delivery filed, to get inspired!
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