A Personal Touch of Esmeralda Nicole Blaney Davidson

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Please learn more about colleagues in our "Personal Touch" series setting employees in the spotlight. A light-hearted manner to learn about the colleagues you know and those you don't!.

This week: Esmeralda Blaney Davidson






1. Name, nationality, current function, department & theme?
Esmeralda Nicole Blaney Davidson (no hyphen!) Tenure Track at the Dept. of Rheumatology. Theme Inflammatory Diseases.

2. When you were a child what did you want to be when you grew up? Can you tell us something about your childhood years. 
In retrospect, without realizing it then, I was on track for science. For “Sinterklaas” I asked for a microscope and later for a telescope. I helped my dad fix other people’s computers (and laughed my head off when he managed to explode one of the chips of his own computers in the process). I loved writing very simple programs in DOS. And liked taking things apart and putting them back together: I opened up my disney Mickey Mouse wind-up watch that my parents brought from London, to see if I could take everything out and put it back together. It still frustrates me that I never managed to get the final sprocket in line with the others.

3. What was your previous academic training, where did you study and why did you choose that study/those studies? 
I studied “Biomedische Gezondheidswetenschappen” in Nijmegen. I was in doubt whether to do informatics (having been a bit of a computer nerd as a kid), go to the TU in Eindhoven or do something more related to health. I knew I did not want to be a physician because I did not want to deal with people that were ill all the time, but I did want do something to help them. So finally I decided that Biomedical Health Sciences was the best of all worlds. I would get to solve puzzles and still do something to actually help people.

4. The RIMLS motto is ‘to understand molecular mechanisms of disease’. What does this mean for you?
This is what I do every day: Solving the puzzle of what is causing the disease (in my case osteoarthritis) on a molecular level.

5. Which international scientist inspires/inspired you the most? Please give a motivation why.
I do not have one particular scientist that is my great example. I could give you a cliché answer,  like Einstein, Hawking or Darwin. (I have to admit Darwin is my favourite). But I get inspired more by passionate scientists in the field that I meet all the time. I get inspired by a passionate talk at a conference, by scientist sticking to his or her ideas and finally figuring out they were right from the start and sharing that with others; presenting their latest breakthrough and almost jumping up and down with enthusiasm from within. These people make me love my job, make me want to run back to the lab and perform that one experiment that they made me think of.

6. Which research discovery that you have made has made you most proud?
Near the end of my PhD, we discovered that in osteoarthritis TGF-beta signals not only via the ALK5 receptor, which everyone already knew, but we figured out that it could also use an alternative receptor: ALK1. This had long been considered an orphan receptor without a ligand. By using this alternative receptor we could finally explain why TGF-beta could have the opposite effects on cartilage that we had found for years, especially when comparing young versus old individuals. Even more so, we figured out that with age, the receptorlevels shift from ALK5 dominance towards ALK1, which leads to a loss of the protective effect of ALK5 signaling, and enhances an osteoarthritis-like phenotype by signalling more dominant via ALK1. This concept is now widely excepted in the osteoarthritis field.

7. Given unlimited finance what experiment would you perform? 
ONE experiment? With UNLIMITED finance? Are you kidding me? I would hire a bunch of PhD students and do them ALL.

But I guess I would love to focus more on pain in osteoarthritis. I think people are focussed on the usual suspects, linking pain to inflammation, which is generally true. But the usual suspects might not be the right ones in the case of osteoarthritis. Unfortunately pain people are not investigating  the right models for osteoarthritis and the osteoarthritis people don’t have enough knowledge on pain to bridge the gap. That’s what I would like to do.

8. What does your working area (desk, office) look like and what does it say about you (or your research)? 
My desk is cluttered with papers from different things I am trying to get finished. My computerscreen has little notes of things I need to remember to do. I try to clean it up regularly, but the effect is only temporary. Then I think of Einstein: “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then is an empty desk a sign?”

I guess what it says about me is that I want to do many things, but have too little time to do them all. Other than all the papers my office wall is covered with schemes (usually of TGF-beta signalling), schedules, and pictures of my kids….

9. Nominate a colleague to be in the spotlight and what would you like to ask him or her? 
Alessandra Cambi. If you didn’t become a scientist, what would your carreer look like today?

10. What type of person are you, quick insights:

a) Mac or  PC:
b) Theater or Cinema:
c) Dine out or dine in: 
Dine out
d) Ferrari or Fiat:
e) Schopaholic or chocoholic:
impossible dilemma!
f) Culture or Nature:

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