Euro-BioImaging users come from many different countries and many different backgrounds. Their research interests vary - as does their career stage. This is the story of Marcos González López, a Master’s student in “Cell and Gene therapies” from Spain, who became a Euro-BioImaging user at the state-of-the-art CELLIM facility, part of our Advanced Light Microscopy and Medical Imaging Node Brno CZ, while pursuing his Master’s degree research. Marcos reports on the unique combination of factors that lead him to apply to become a Euro-BioImaging user while studying abroad in a global pandemic.
In March 2020, Marcos González López was a first year Master’s degree student in “Cell and Gene therapies” at the Francisco de Vitoria University in Madrid, Spain. Passionate about stem cells and genetic engineering, he was looking forward to his second year of studies with more hands-on learning, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Given that most Spanish laboratories were closed to external users, his university encouraged him to look for collaboration opportunities abroad. Marcos had always dreamed of studying abroad. He spoke English fluently, and was learning Czech at the Czech Lectorate in Madrid (sponsored by Czech Embassy) even before the pandemic.
Given his interest in the Czech Republic, Marcos’ university steered him towards a cooperation with Jan Křivánek´s lab in the Department of Embryology and Histology at Masaryk University in Brno to pursue his Master’s thesis. A scholarship from the Czech Ministry of Education, Youth, and Sports (MŠMT) helped to convince Marcos to take advantage of this opportunity to study abroad – despite the COVID-19 situation.
Marcos’ specific research project focusses on the regeneration and repair of teeth using in vivo model organisms, specifically, genetically modified mice. The main aim of his work is investigating how the incisor growth is controlled in different conditions and unravel the underlying signalization pathways. Imaging is a crucial part of this project, since Marcos must use different visualization techniques to reach a proper description of the process.
The close proximity of the university with the CELLIM core facility, part of Euro-BioImaging’s Brno Node, made the study-abroad opportunity even more attractive. Marcos could apply for access to the facility as a Euro-BioImaging user, and with support from the experts at the Node, learn how to use different imaging techniques, such as confocal and fluorescence microscopy. In addition, the Masaryk University has an animal house, with access to lots of mice and surgical expertise.
Marcos arrived in Brno in September 2020. Due to the COVID-19 situation, all classes at the university (for him, mostly Czech language classes), take place remotely. But he was able to start working in the lab of Jan Křivánek immediately. With the competent technical team, including an in-house dental specialist, Marcos quickly learned how to dissect the mice, remove the incisors and molars and prepare the jaw for imaging, a complicated process that involves a 14-day decalcification process before the tissue can be embedded in a gel, frozen, sectioned and then stained.
His in-person training at the CELLIM imaging facility began in October, under strict hygiene conditions. He was trained in confocal microscopy and also learned how to process the data he acquired using different programs, such as ImageJ and Imaris.
Marcos González López is a Master’s student and Euro-BioImaging user at the state-of-the-art CELLIM facility, part of our Advanced Light Microscopy and Medical Imaging Node Brno CZ.
Being able to work in this facility alongside other experts has been an extremely rich experience for Marcos – even against the backdrop of COVID-19. The state-of-the-art equipment available at the CELLIM imaging facility is crucial to Marcos’ work – and the competent and friendly staff have been particularly supportive of his project.
Studying abroad in a global pandemic may strike many as a difficult endeavor. But Marcos isn’t letting the COVID-19 context impact his stay abroad too much. The labs have been open in the Czech Republic ever since he arrived and as the university is closed, he just takes his Czech classes online. As for speaking Czech? He deploys his newly-acquired language skills in the lab, speaking Czech with the technicians.
One thing Marcos really regrets is that bars and restaurants are closed. He was really looking forward to the full Czech cultural experience, and to this day, he hasn’t been able to have a real Czech meal – only takeout. So, once the lockdown restrictions are removed, he really can’t wait to have a typical Czech meal with his friends. But in the meantime, Marcos shows us that study abroad and transnational user access are still possible - even in a global pandemic.
Euro-BioImaging is the European landmark research infrastructure for biological and biomedical imaging as recognised by the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures (ESFRI). All scientists, regardless of their affiliation, area of expertise or field of activity can benefit from Euro-BioImaging’s pan-European open access services. By facilitating user access to high quality imaging facilities, resources, and services, with a constantly evolving technology offer, Euro-BioImaging will boost the productivity and impact of research across Europe.