We’re taking time to get to know the members of the GSA’s Early Career Scientist Committees. Join us to learn more about our early career scientist advocates.

Mireia Coll-Tané

Community and Membership Engagement Subcommittee

Radboud University Medical Center

Research Interest

My research interests lie in trying to understand the causes of sleep problems in children with neurodevelopmental disorders, such as intellectual disability and autism. I focus on a small group of patients who have mutations in the same genes, which we call monogenic syndromes. To find out how the disruptions of these genes lead to sleep disturbances, we mutate the exact same gene in the fruit fly. Then, we can use a variety of tools to determine which cells are malfunctioning and which processes are altered and lead to sleep problems. I also use these flies to test novel treatments that, hopefully, one day we will be able to use in the clinic.

As a PhD-trained scientist, you have many career options. What interests you the most?

At this moment, I would like to stay and grow in academia, continuing and consolidating the work I started as a PhD candidate in the laboratory of Professor Annette Schenck. This work focused on understanding and treating the highly prevalent sleep disturbances present in individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders. Although they inflict severe negative effects on both the individuals experiencing them and their families and aggravate other cognitive and behavioral problems, these sleep disturbances remain severely understudied and undertreated. Despite the availability of effective behavioral therapies for typically-developing individuals diagnosed with sleep disorders (such as insomnia), such therapies are rarely applied to individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders. This disregard has been largely due to the belief that sleep disturbances in these populations occur secondary to, rather than represent, a core phenotype and have therefore traditionally been regarded as treatment-resistant.

I have successfully applied a behavioral approach that resembles human cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia and demonstrated that it effectively rescued development-related sleep defects in fly models of neurodevelopmental disorders. I would also like to do more work on the approach’s broader implementation in the clinic. Both now and later in my academic career, I want to investigate whether improving sleep with this approach can improve other complaints that patients may have, such as learning and memory problems. I believe in the high impact potential of a behavioral intervention for improving the well-being of individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders and their families.

I realize that a successful academic career comes with challenges like mobility and funding. That is why I have also considered a career outside academia. As such, the role of medical science liaison (MSL), working for either the pharmaceutical or healthcare industry seems especially appealing to me. Throughout the world, MSLs serve as scientific peers and resources within the medical community and are internal scientific experts at companies. They primarily establish and maintain peer-to-peer relationships with leading physicians at major academic institutions and clinics. MSLs work with product development (e.g., a novel drug or device) and help ensure effective use. In this context, I would like to help develop new therapies or products that could benefit patients and their families with neurological disorders, significantly improving their lives.

In addition to your research, how do you want to advance the scientific enterprise?

In this fast-paced and constantly evolving world, collaboration is key for advancing science and achieving research breakthroughs, especially when coming from a more fundamental research background. At an early stage in my career, I discovered the power of a strong interdisciplinary network—comprised not only of a mix of fundamental and clinical researchers but also of diverse flavors of behavior, molecular work, and bioinformatics. Although still at an early stage, I am a highly enthusiastic researcher and love to be actively engaged in the community. Conference networking has therefore been vital to establishing collaborations with more senior members, as well as my own peer network of PhD students and postdocs. During my PhD, I helped organize an international PhD conference, and had the honor of chairing two sessions in different conferences. At each of these occasions, I not only discussed great science with excellent scientists but also made lifelong friends. I hope to continue and expand on these activities during my scientific career.

Having a solid peer-to-peer network is vital for many early (and even not-so-early) career scientists. It is hard, if not impossible, to progress in this great field without support and advice from peers. With this in mind, in addition to GSA’s Early Career Leadership Program (ECLP), I am also a member of the Radboud Postdoc Initiative and a postdoc representative in the Donders Institute postdoc council to address the challenges and concerns of fellow early career scientists, especially postdocs, at my home university.

Moreover, it is crucial that early career scientists focus their efforts on training the next generation of scientists. Mentoring students from all levels is one of the best ways to push a project further in the long term. Currently, I am co-supervising three PhD students and one research technician. It is wonderful to see the novel ideas that pop up during our discussions, as well as the practical and emotional support among everyone. I can already see how much faster novel hypotheses materialize into results.

As a leader within the Genetics Society of America, what do you hope to accomplish?

Collaboration and support among peers in all academic stages is one of my main professional goals. Therefore, as a member of the Community and Membership Engagement Subcommittee of the ECLP, I would like to provide a safe environment that helps bring members together and promotes networking. During my first term as an ECLP member, I co-organized two sessions with a wonderful and diverse group of ECLP representatives at GSA conferences. I enjoyed it so much that since the beginning of this year I have been co-leading the organization of conference events. Meeting and working with members of other ECLP subcommittees was a great experience, as we do not get the chance to interact regularly. Moreover, it was fantastic to have the opportunity to guide one of the networking sessions and interact in a small setting with PhD students and postdocs from other disciplines. In my next term, I will continue to participate in these events. With the easing of COVID-19 restrictions and resumption of mobility, I hope to join some in person. I look forward to meeting you at one of our next events!

This month, a small and talented group of the Community and Membership Engagement Subcommittee is launching a peer networking support program for ECLP members to share skills, strengths, and hopes. Many topics are difficult to navigate without guidance, such as job search or dissertation writing. In this program, postdocs and graduate students will come together to share their advice and support regarding a chosen topic. We are launching a three-month pilot program which will consist of a peer group meeting every other week. Each group will have a leader who will be responsible for scheduling the meeting and making sure that peers are present and participating in the discussion, sharing their concerns, experience, and feedback with others. If you are an ECLP member interested in the program, do not hesitate to get in touch!

Previous Leadership Experience:

  • Postdoc representative for the Donders Community for Medical Neuroscience (DCMN) of the Donders institute (2022–Present)
  • Member of the Radboud Postdoc Initiative (2022–Present)
  • Organizing committee member of the Donders Discussions, an international conference by and for PhD students in neuroscience (2017; Nijmegen, NL)
  • Co-developer and teacher of a one-day teaching module for the curriculum “Developmental disorders and malignancies” for students of the Molecular Mechanisms of Disease MSc program at the Radboud University (2022–Present)
  • Co-developer and teacher of the two-day practical module “Drosophila models of brain disorders” in the “Translational Neuroscience” minor (2016–2019; twice per academic year)

Graduate student and postdoctoral leaders from the Early Career Scientist Committees of the GSA.

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