Priscila Sato, PhD, is an assistant professor in the Department of Pharmacology & Physiology at Drexel University College of Medicine.
How long have you been with Drexel University College of Medicine?
I've been here for about nine months. I joined Drexel in March of 2018.
Where did you come from?
I was just a couple of miles away from Drexel at Temple University School of Medicine. I did my postdoc there in cardiac research.
When did you know that you wanted to become a research scientist?
I kind of have an unusual background because what brought me to research was grief. I was a senior in undergrad majoring in biology and chemistry when my mom had a fatal heart attack. I went through the many phases of grief, and while doing so, I decided that I wanted to do cardiac research. While I enjoyed the science very much, I also wanted to find a way to better understand what happened to her. I had a really hard time overcoming this period, blaming myself, which is an unfair part of the grief process. Being involved with cardiac-related research helped me get through that.
You felt understanding the science would make it easier?
Yes. I understood that there are many unknowns to what really happened to her, and there was not much that I could have done as a 20-year-old. If one day we come up with something really cool and we can prevent people, even just one person, from going through the experience I had—that would be an awesome thing.
Can you tell me about the research that you are doing in your lab at Drexel?
We are interested in cardiac hypertrophy and how that develops into decompensated heart failure. We also have another line of research where we're looking at how diabetes leads to cardiac dysfunction. I have a couple of genetic mouse models. We want to really hone down in understanding potential mechanisms of how changes in the pancreas, particularly in the beta islets, impact the heart.
How do you conduct your research?
We currently have a couple of animal models, and we use some in vitro assays in cell lines. I'm in the initial process to work with clinicians, both endocrinologists as well as cardiologists, to get samples from diabetic patients and really try to make a connection between what we're seeing in cells in vitro and in animal models to what is observed in humans.
Do you have students working in your lab?
I currently have two master's students, one who started a couple of months after I joined Drexel and one who just joined this week. Additionally, I have two rotating PhD students.
What are some the differences between working for someone else and now running your lab?
The lab I came from was very large and well-funded. It's very different starting on your own. I had done some animal protocol writing there, so my PI prepared me for that portion of running a lab, but there are a lot of things that are completely different. Now my group is small, and we're trying to get established and funded. You worry about things like, "Oh, this experiment is going to be really expensive," or "Let's try to manage the colonies so we get the numbers down." It's definitely a different experience.
Did you always see yourself working in academia?
No. I always loved research. I've been very fortunate and lucky. I am blessed to have this opportunity to really be in academia.
What kind of advice do you have for students who are considering pursuing research in medicine?
Be very resilient. Don't take in criticism too hard, because it's the nature of the job. Just grow a thick skin and know that everything will be okay regardless. I was just telling a student yesterday, I remember the first time I got the reviewer's comments for my predoc fellowship application. I took it really hard. I went to talk to my mentor at the time, and he was like, "It wasn't that bad. They really like you." So don't worry. Take it in. Let it out. Move on to the next one, and everything will be okay.
That seems to be a common thread when I talk to researchers. You have to be okay with failure and criticism.
It's not really failure. It's a learning experience. You have to take criticism and build on it. Take criticism and take it constructively.
On a more personal note, I noticed on your profile that you speak multiple languages.
I was born and raised in Brazil, and my dad is Japanese. I come from a multicultural family. I came to the U.S. as an international student on a visa. The goal was for me to get an education and go back home, but that didn't happen because I got married. The rest is history. I find my diverse background to be very helpful because it allows me to connect well to many different people coming from different backgrounds.