How does it feel to win the TGS Award?
Ortiz-Perez: ‘I was really surprised to be selected. I had to read the email several times. I’m of course very happy to win. I thought all other candidates presented very nice research and projects, so it was a surprise and an honor to be the winner.’
What does your project focus on?
‘I was chosen for my project that focuses on creating an in vitro platform of liver cancer. Liver cancer is a major cause of death worldwide. Our goal is to develop and validate a reliable liver tumor-on-a-chip platform that mimics this human cancer. The platform can help us understand this cancer better and could be used for personalized medicine. The model could also reduce animal experimentation. I want to create a more complex model than what currently exists and that could be even more accurate than animal testing.’
What has brought you to research of liver cancer therapies?
‘I did my Master thesis under the supervision of Ruchi Bansal, who is a liver disease specialist, and Severine le Gac, who is an organ-on-a-chip expert. My project combines these two fields of expertise. Because of my background, I’m generally interested in nanotechnology and its applications in nanomedicine. I believe that organ-on-a-chip is a new technology that will help us understand how nanomedicine interacts with the body and will definitely have an impact on the development of new therapies.’
The award is given to a student who wants to pursue a PhD degree – and it comes with a cash prize. What are your plans for your PhD research and the money?
‘Due to funding issues caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, I will actually do my PhD in Eindhoven and on a slightly different topic, focusing on the synthesis and characterization of nanoparticles for cancer treatment. This was also the topic of my Bachelor thesis and has a shared motivation with my Master project: to gain a better understanding of nanomedicines in cancer. If it comes to the prize money, I would really like to go to an international conference once that is possible. I want to learn more about my field together with my peers.’
Do you have an ultimate goal that you’d like to achieve as a scientist?
‘I don’t really have a clear answer to this question. I’m focused on the present and what I can do right now. I want to do my best, learn as much as I can and make meaningful contributions to science. I really believe that nanotechnology has a big potential in medicine, we just need to understand it better. Right now, it is a bit of a black box and we need more research. That is exciting.’
The Twente Graduate School (TGS) award is an annual prize given to an excellent UT Master student who has the ambition to pursue a PhD degree. The award comes with a cheque of € 2,500 to be spent on the winner’s doctoral education.
Ana Ortiz Perez received her Master’s degree (cum laude) in Biomedical Engineering at the UT in 2019. Since then she has worked as Pre Doctoral Fellow at the Medical Cell BioPhysics group of the University of Twente. She will carry out her PhD research in Eindhoven.