Pablo is a scientific project manager for Ecraid’s POS-cUTI study. We spoke to him about his invaluable time working and learning in New York, the importance of combatting mistreatment at research institutions, and the urgent need to tackle urinary tract infections.
“I love the chemistry of compounds! I really enjoy synthesising my own compounds and throwing them at infected cells to study their effects.”
It is not often that you hear someone talk about chemical compounds the way a child chirps about their favourite cartoon characters. Yet, that is exactly how Pablo’s fascination with biochemistry sounds like. Although this appreciation for science might be explained by his background (his mother, father, and sister all are medical doctors), he cites his high-school biology teacher as a major inspiration.
“He didn't just want you to memorise information, but rather taught you how to use that information to answer your own questions. I was already interested in science, and his unique approach motivated me to seek interesting questions to investigate.”
Pablo, 37, went on to study molecular biology and did a PhD on compounds against adenovirus infections. The economic crisis in the early 2010s forced him to seek postdoctoral opportunities outside of Europe. He ultimately settled on New York City, where he focused on HIV research.
A world of possibilities
“My time in New York was very valuable. Meeting people from different countries, different cultures, different ideas – it really opens up your mind.”
Pablo’s eagerness to learn from others’ experiences gave him the courage to re-evaluate his own professional path. He used the opportunities provided by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine to explore diverse areas beyond the lab, including project management and scientific entrepreneurship.
“Doing basic research can be rewarding, but also frustrating. It is not uncommon to have experiments fail one after another. In times like that, it's difficult to see the application of your work. I started asking myself if I wanted to do something more applicable and translational. A friend in New York had done a course on start-up entrepreneurship and he opened my eyes to a whole world of possibilities where I could use what I had learned in science to make more tangible contributions.”
"Meeting people from different countries, different cultures, different ideas – it really opens up your mind."
After specialising in using next-generation sequencing techniques against HIV, Pablo decided to make a switch to project management. His prospects in the U.S. were bright and included a work opportunity at the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research. However, life on the other side of the Atlantic was far from perfect.
The dark side of the American dream
“The American lifestyle is quite different from what we are used to in Europe. Work there is a top priority and the work environment is highly competitive, particularly in science. The steep hierarchy and the pressure to perform can sometimes contribute to an unhealthy environment, especially for vulnerable employees, such as foreign postdocs. Unfortunately, this is a common problem in academia."
Motivated by these experiences, Pablo and like-minded friends joined forces with a Spanish organisation (ECUSA) assisting postdocs in the U.S. They have set up a dedicated group of volunteers called eCORE that will soon start helping victims of mistreatment with advice and resources. The group will also work toward raising awareness and training others to detect and handle problematic situations. The goal is to resolve but also prevent conflicts related to power differential, ultimately contributing to employee wellbeing and scientific progress.
"In the next couple of months, we’ll launch an email address and phone number. Our team is mainly Spanish, but we have connections across Europe and the U.S. and we will strive to help anyone who gets in touch with us."
Finding a dream team
After more than four fruitful years abroad, Pablo and his wife decided to return to Spain, where they could use that rich professional experience in a healthier environment. Upon careful consideration, Pablo joined the team of Prof. Jesús Rodriguez Baño at the Andalusian Public Foundation for Health Research Management in Seville.
“I was looking for a top infectious diseases scientific team, but also a people-oriented and constructive professional environment where I could take my career to the next level. This is exactly what I found in my current team. They are outstanding in terms of professionalism, but also regarding personal skills. The way my work is valued here motivates me to give a 150% of myself.”
"My colleagues are outstanding in terms of professionalism, but also regarding personal skills. The way my work is valued here motivates me to give a 150% of myself."
He is similarly impressed with the other teams within the ECRAID-Base project. POS-cUTI is one of 12 working groups, five of which run a Perpetual Observational Study (POS) and the rest offer supporting services. The project is set up in a way that requires close cooperation on every level.
“The first thing that struck me was how well-organised and meticulous the central Ecraid team is. This is the only way to get things done within such a large, complex network. It helps us and our colleagues to coordinate our efforts as much as possible.”
An adversary worth fighting
Each POS tackles an urgent public health issue. Pablo’s team is busy with what is arguably the most widespread among them – complicated Urinary Tract Infections (cUTI).
“cUTI are among the most frequent infectious diseases. With such large numbers of patients comes a higher risk of interrupted antibiotic courses and, subsequently, more opportunities for the disease to develop resistance to antibiotics. Speed is therefore of the essence. Having a ‘warm base’ of clinical sites gives us access to huge amounts of data, which will ensure that we can react faster than any traditional study.”
After months of preparation, the POS-cUTI study is now on the cusp of starting patient inclusion. With 40 clinical sites on board, Pablo is working hard to ensure that the complex patchwork of regulatory requirements is dealt with, agreements are signed, and teams spread across Europe are receiving the necessary training.
The "Purpose-driven, people-centred: The people behind the science" series shines a spotlight on the brilliant scientists and project operatives working on Ecraid’s studies and the activities supporting them. Although you might not hear their names outside of academia, rest assured that their hard work and dedication impact millions of lives affected by infectious diseases and antimicrobial resistance in Europe and beyond.