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Chedliya Ishak

Stem Cell Scientist & Geneticist

Human Genetics Unit

And - Consultant

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Self belief and passion gets you further than skills or knowledge.

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WHAT DO YOU DO?

I am an early career scientist engaged in stem cell research incorporating stem cell culture techniques with genetic applications. My forte is neuroscience but I have the know-how in a broad area of stem cell research. I am also working on implementing the 3Rs, especially in terms of eliminating animal models in research conducted in Sri Lanka.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS FIELD?

Since I was a kid I was always interested in science, especially biology. I read encyclopedias, I wanted to know how things worked, and I was fascinated by experiments. Going into my teenage years, I came to terms with Parkinson's Disease when my maternal grandfather went into the final stages of the debilating condition. I was intrigued by the etiology of this degenerative disease and the symptoms it brought forth. So when I chose Science subjects in High School, I went into it knowing that this was something I wanted to learn more about.

 

When it came to getting into Uni, I opted to study Science although I got into Med Schools. I was lucky because my parents were supportive of my passion for science and did not force me to pursue Medicine as is the case in most Asian countries.

 

Fast forward to Uni, I felt inherently drawn to take on projects related to neuroscience whenever I was given the opportunity. Come my Masters Degree, I was allowed to choose a project of my choice, and I chose one to do with neural stem cells; and I have not looked back since. This has always been my calling.

HOW DO/DID YOU TACKLE OBSTACLES?

I still have a long way to go in terms of becoming an all round scientist. Obstacles are part and parcel of a young scientist's journey. I have had to deal with bridging gaps in knowledge by reading more journals and getting in touch with scientists who have had experience in the field. I was advised to purchase a neural stem cell line because isolating such delicate cells is not an easy feat. However, I worked hard to fine tune my skills and believed in my abilities as a scientist, so it was all the more rewarding when I managed to isolate them from primary tissue.

WHAT DO YOU LOOK AT & THINK, "I WISH YOUNGER ME WOULD HAVE KNOWN THIS WAS POSSIBLE?"

I wish younger me had been more patient and capitalised on the early opportunities that had been afforded.

WHY DO YOU LOVE WORKING IN STEM?

I genuinely love working in STEM because it allows me to make the most of my curiosity and insatiable apetite for knowledge. There is something unique about a job in a research laboratory. Everyday can bring forth a rarely observed challenge/opportunity which provides me the ability to learn something new each time. Even a negative result can become a teachable point, or something worth disseminating to the wider scientific community. When I am not engaged in experiments or managing the lab, I like teaching prospectives hoping that the desire for STEM would spark within them too.

BEST ADVICE FOR NEXT GENERATION?

I wish that girls do not feel limited by cultural, societal or racial barriers when it comes to pursuing their childhood dreams. Self belief and passion gets you further than skills or knowledge. Always question, and embark on an adventure to find these answers!

INSPIRATION

Millions saw the apple fall, but Newton was the one who asked why. The important thing is to never stop questioning.