Marie Andrea Laetitia Huët’s journey transcends typical PhD narratives. From National Geographic enthusiast to nanomedicine warrior, Laetitia reveals how her scientific odyssey combats a neglected tropical disease.
Fuelled by a passion for knowledge and global impact, she navigates the bustling Centre for Biomedical and Biomaterials Research (CBBR), a hub of diverse researchers tackling healthcare, agricultural, and cosmetic challenges.
Her focus? Biodegradable, antibacterial wound dressings for cutaneous leishmaniasis, a neglected disease plaguing marginalised communities. She reveals more in an exclusive interview:
What drew you to microbiology when you were growing up? How did your career path develop?
From the discovery of penicillin to the cutting-edge advancements in next-generation sequencing, my journey in the realm of scientific research has been a fascinating odyssey marked by challenges, triumphs, and an unwavering commitment to knowledge. As a lifelong enthusiast of the National Geographic network, my dream was always to contribute to the fields of research and education. This narrative encapsulates the various chapters of my research journey, highlighting the pivotal moments that shaped my path.
What does the lab group do and what needs does it meet?
In the dynamic world of the CBBR team, research converges to address diverse global needs. From revolutionising cancer regenerative medicine to crafting nanofiber for diabetic foot ulcers and wound dressings, their projects encapsulate innovation and impact. The CBBR team, spanning post-docs, research assistants and PhD students, delves into various field of study including tissue engineering scaffolds, cell encapsulation implants, nanoparticle exploration, predictive AI modelling, microbiology, and biotechnology. With each project, our researchers aim not just to push the boundaries of knowledge but to meet critical needs in healthcare, agriculture, cosmetic and beyond.
What is your role in the lab group and how do you help to meet those needs?
I am a PhD scholar in Biomaterials Engineering and Nanomedicine at the CBBR. Bestowed with a full-time scholar award by the Higher Education Commission (HEC) of Mauritius, my research is centred on the strategic application of nanomedicine in developing advanced wound dressings. These dressings are characterised by their biodegradability, biocompatibility, and antibacterial attributes, aimed at expediting wound healing for cutaneous leishmaniasis lesions.
The overarching goal is to create a multifaceted solution that not only addresses the primary concern of leishmaniasis but also serves as a potent barrier against secondary microbial infections. Given the widespread impact of cutaneous leishmaniasis, particularly in marginalised communities across Africa, Asia, and the Americas, my ambition is to contribute meaningfully to the development of improved treatments for this neglected tropical disease.
Beyond the research arena, I play a crucial role in lab maintenance, with a particular focus on the microbiology lab. Ensuring the seamless operation of the laboratory infrastructure is essential for the success of our projects. In essence, my commitment extends beyond the theoretical and experimental aspects of my Ph.D., encompassing the practicalities of maintaining an efficient and well-equipped research environment.
What does a typical day look like from start to finish? Are there other things you do on less typical days?
Ever wondered what happens behind the lab coats and microscope lenses? Welcome to a day in my life, where I navigate the thrilling world of research, one pipette at a time.
No snooze buttons needed! I’m up at the crack of dawn, racing to the lab and hitting the scene at 7:10 am every day.
First things first – I’m a planning addict. Agenda? Checked. Now, time to dive into the day’s lab antics. Synthetic lab, characterization, SEM – I’ve done it all in my first PhD year. These days, you’ll find me cozied up in the microbiology lab, treating my bacteria like my own little rockstars, maintaining them and testing my antibacterial scaffolds.
Wet lab work? Done by noon. Time for lunch! But it’s not just about food; it’s also about chit-chat time with my fellow PhD comrades.
Post-lunch is when the serious business kicks in. Data analysis, writing sessions, and some quality laptop bonding. If my colleagues need a hand, I’m there, multitasking like a champ.
End of the day: Organisation freak alert – I always plan tomorrow’s chaos before calling it a day.
Now, let’s talk about the days when lab life takes a detour. Seminars, industry visits – the not-so-typical days. I’m out and about, soaking in knowledge, and maybe stealing a few snacks here and there.
How do you integrate your past microbiology experience with the different aspects of your work currently?
Skills obtained from undergrad level are environmental microbiology and biotechnology, while at Master’s level I moved into medical microbiology.
What have the big landmark moments been in your role?
Fluent in three languages, with the majority of my tertiary academic journey conducted in English, I ventured out of my comfort zone last year to participate in “Ma thèse en 180 secondes Maurice,” a French competition where I succinctly presented my research in three minutes. To my surprise, I emerged victorious at the national final on June 28, 2023. This competition, organised by l’Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie (AUF) - Maurice in partnership with the French Embassy in Mauritius, propelled me to the International Final of “Ma thèse en 180 secondes 2023” in Rabat, Morocco, on October 5, 2023.
In addition to winning the national MT180 Maurice first prize, I was granted an enriching visit to the Cyclotron Réunion Océan Indien (CYROI) in Sainte-Clotilde, Réunion Island, courtesy of the French Embassy and AUF-Maurice’s generous support. Which goes to show that your research can take you places - you are not always stuck in the lab!
What do you love about your work?
Working on my PhD is like embarking on a thrilling adventure every day. It’s not just about donning a lab coat and pipetting liquids into tubes; it’s about diving deep into the microscopic world of microbiology with a purpose. I’m not in it just for the sake of research – I’m on a mission to make a difference.
What makes it even more exciting is the chance to tackle both local and global challenges. Whether it’s figuring out how to combat a local outbreak or contributing to solutions for international issues, every experiment feels like a step towards something meaningful.
But it’s not a solo journey. Picture this: a diverse team of experts, each bringing their unique perspective to the table. Working alongside international post-docs and students, I’ve come to appreciate the beauty of a multi-disciplinary approach. It’s like a scientific potluck – everyone brings something different, and the result is a feast of ideas.
And let’s not forget the joy of mentoring. Guiding Master’s and undergrad students in their research is like passing the torch of curiosity. Seeing their eyes light up when they discover something new is the real reward.
So, my PhD isn’t just about being buried in textbooks and lab equipment; it’s a dynamic, purpose-driven journey where every day brings a new challenge and an opportunity to make a positive impact on the world. And hey, the lab coat? It’s just my superhero cape.
What would you/the lab group love to look at in the future?
Our researchers are dedicated to unravelling solutions for local and global issues, leveraging expertise in biotechnology and microbiology. From infectious diseases to environmental sustainability, our goal is to contribute practical solutions that positively impact communities worldwide.