Immigrants have a significant impact on many aspects of our daily life. The following series of stories highlight the contributions of a talented group of MUSC researchers. This is part one.
What would the world look like without alternating current, a system designed for long-distance transmission of high-voltage electricity? Without nuclear reactors? Without relativity and quantum mechanics? Thanks to decades of hard work by scientists like Nikola Tesla, Enrico Fermi, and Albert Einstein, who were all immigrants, we don’t need to imagine such a world because ours is enjoying all of these advances.
Without the development of a safe and effective SARS-CoV-2 vaccine, our world would certainly be a different place. Hungarian born scientist Katalin Kariko, Ph.D., and Drew Weissman, MD, Ph.D. from Pennsylvania University helped develop the technology to make these life-saving vaccines.
âMy laboratory is like the United Nations. In science, different points of view are crucial in order to understand alternative ideas and hypotheses. ”
– Dr. Besim Ogretmen
America’s robust research firm has attracted international scientists like this one. The US has been a science leader for more than a century, and it has been surpasses all other countries – including those of the European Union together – in funding scientific research. It also publishes most of the scientific articles, and US scientists have received 342 Nobel Prizes in chemistry, medicine, or physics. From these winners more than a third (117) were immigrants.
A recent article in the Journal of Clinical Investigation by Hollings Cancer Center researchers Sophie Paczesny, MD, Ph.D., underlines the importance of diverse representation in MINT professions (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). Over the past decade, the proportion of immigrants in the biomedical workforce has increased from 8% to 18%. Besides, from the almost 80,000 postdocs in the US, nearly 66% international scientists.
While these statistics highlight the growing contribution of immigrants to STEM, they feign the fact that there are significant barriers to the ability of immigrants to study and educate in the United States through community.
Investing in a diverse future
Paczesny has extensive experience with the immigration system. She completed her medical degree at the University of Strasbourg in France, where she studied pediatric hematology and oncology. In 2000 she emigrated to the USA to do her doctorate there. in immunology. After completing her doctorate, she returned to France to work as a doctor / scientist.
But soon she missed the intensive research during her doctorate. Job. She returned to the United States and did a second postdoctoral fellowship studying graft-versus-host disease. In 2012, she joined MUSC as Chair of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology and Co-Director of the Cancer Immunology Program at the Hollings Cancer Center. These experiences and positions have resulted in a broad understanding of why diverse work environments are important and how to navigate the complex immigration system.
“The reason the US still has so many immigrants is because it’s the best place to study and research,” said Paczesny.
Immigrants are a good investment for the US, according to Paczesny. Immigrants seeking STEM careers are often highly educated and represent the best in their country. After completing their rigorous curricula, these apprentices continue to invest in the U.S. and work in industry and academia.
In her comment, Paczesny points out the recent changes that threaten the continued supremacy of the US in research. These include changes in immigration policy, reduced overall federal research funding, and even COVID-19. The good news is that any of these hurdles can be overcome in the near future.
Paczesny’s extensive career in oncology, immunology, stem cell transplantation, and T-cell therapy has put her at the forefront of using the body’s immune system to fight and kill cancer cells. As a doctor-scientist, her work extends across the bench and the bed.
âThe contact with patients is pleasant, but you apply what other people discover. It’s not very satisfying when you like to think, âsaid Paczesny. âIn research, you actually bring the new treatment with you, and that’s really satisfactory. When you have a breakthrough, it’s exhilarating; When you see the opportunities for patients, that’s great. “
Ambassadors for Better Relationships
The United States gives scientists and all citizens access to an enormous amount of information. This allows people to connect more easily, share ideas, and share different points of view. It is a level of freedom that not many other countries share, and that also allows for a rigorous and respected academic education.
This training resulted Betty Tsao, Ph.D., Professor and the Richard M. Silver Endowed Chair for Inflammation Research in the Department of Rheumatology and Immunology, to come to the USA many years ago for a graduate college, where she studied biochemistry.
One of their biggest hurdles when entering the US was language, a common experience of many immigrants. She grew up speaking Chinese and found it difficult to write effectively in English. But that hasn’t stopped her from running a successful laboratory studying the underlying genetic components of lupus. By studying the molecular and cellular pathways of these genetic differences, her laboratory hopes to identify new therapies for lupus.
âIt’s a great feeling to break new ground where nobody has been before and to gain new knowledge,â said Tsao. “These are things that we value.”
As a scientist, too, Tsao values ââthe diversity and the associated advantages that an international team brings with it. Your international trainees are often impressed by the hospitality of their neighbors. And as students make decisions about their future, Tsao believes that these positive experiences will strengthen the U.S. image as an open and welcoming place. When some trainees decide to return to their home countries, they are ready to be ambassadors of goodwill and try to continue the positive partnerships with the US
But not every trainee has these positive experiences.
“Recently, Asian Americans have seen a wave of hate crimes,” Tsao said. “They’re more careful now when strangers get too close, when they don’t know their intentions.”
While these negative interactions may not have many short-term consequences since the US is the leading country for scientific research, it is not known whether this could have long-term consequences.
Science as a mini-United Nations
Emigrated from Ankara, Turkey, in 1989, Besim Ogretmen, Ph.D., Professor and SmartState Endowed Chair in Lipidomics and Drug Discovery, arrived in America at a time when recruiting foreign scientists was even easier.
“When I first came, it was a lot easier to recruit students and postdocs from other countries,” said Ogretmen, who is also director of the Lipidomics Shared Resource at the Hollings Cancer Center and director of the Hollings Developmental Cancer Therapeutics Research Program. “Things have changed and I think the world has changed.”
These hurdles and barriers to immigration, according to Ogretmen, have led many international students to consider a job in Europe and elsewhere rather than coming to the US. This decline in the pool of talented applicants makes it difficult to continue the cutting-edge research for which the United States is known.
“My laboratory is like the United Nations,” said Ogretmen. âIn science, different points of view are crucial in order to understand alternative ideas and hypotheses. The US is built on immigrants and a combination of different ideas. We shouldn’t lose sight of that. “
Ogretmen has been running a successful laboratory for decades. His laboratory examines the intersection of lipid metabolism and cancer biology, addressing issues such as the way cancer cells control their growth and how they communicate with surrounding cells, especially immune cells. The ultimate goal is to improve cancer outcomes for patients.
âI don’t see it as a job; it’s a lifestyle – how to ask questions and find interesting results. In the end, can we take these results and improve someone’s life and maybe one day cure cancer, âOgretmen said. “I still have the fire in my stomach to wake up in the morning and get back to work.”