Dr. Ane Olazagoitia-Garmendia

Written by Dr. Luiz Passalacqua

Dr. Ane Olazagoitia-Garmendia is a postdoctoral researcher at the Universidad del País Vasco/Euskal Herriko Unibertsitatea (UPV/EHU) in Spain. She obtained her PhD at the same institution under the supervision of Drs. Ainara Castellanos-Rubio and Jose Ramon Bilbao. She is currently finishing some projects from her graduate work and is very excited about writing her next chapter. As such, she is actively looking for a postdoctoral position abroad, either in Europe or in the US. She hopes to join a lab where she can keep learning more about non-coding RNAs and epitranscriptomics.

Dr. Olazagoitia-Garmendia's journey in science started during her undergraduate studies in chemistry at UPV/EHU, when she was awarded an Erasmus grant to go to the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow (Scotland). She completed the final year of her research project, related to new treatments against the Human African Trypanosomiasis while she was in Scotland. While there, she also had the opportunity to meet Dr. Abedawn I. Khalaf, who was a researcher at the Department of Pure and Applied Chemistry. His passion for his job after many years of experience and his ability to show his feelings to his students encouraged her to continue in science. She added, “It is nice that after 8 years, we are still in contact.” This proved to her that great relationships can be created in a lab too.

After moving back to the Basque Country in Spain, she got an internship in a structural biology lab at the Center for Cooperative Research in Biosciences (CIC bioGUNE) to work on production and chemical modification of the KiSS-1 metastasis suppressor protein. During her master’s at UPV/EHU, she worked in the Cellular Oncology group at the Instituto de Investigación Sanitaria Biodonostia, where she studied Erb-B2 Receptor Tyrosine Kinase 4 in a human medulloblastoma cell line. She recalled, “I met lovely people in the lab that were doing their Ph.D. or working as post-docs.” The supportive environment and friendships she made during this time helped her realize that she wanted to be part of the scientific world.

“I think that seeing more women in our field that are starting their labs and becoming group leaders motivates Ph.D. students and early post-docs to keep working.”

Next, she decided to apply for a Ph.D. program and a friend recommended Dr. Ainara Castellanos-Rubio as a potential advisor. At that time, Dr. Castellanos-Rubio was a highly motivated new faculty member, who had just started her lab after coming from postdoctoral training at University of Columbia in New York. Dr. Olazagoitia-Garmendia recalls, “From the moment I met Dr. Castellanos-Rubio, I felt we would make a good team, so I applied for a Ph.D. grant and got a 4-year grant from the Basque Government.” She has no doubts that Dr. Castellanos-Rubio was the best mentor she could have hoped for. She said, “Dr. Castellanos-Rubio introduced me to the amazing world of non-coding RNAs (mainly lncRNAs) and epitranscriptomics in the context of immune and inflammatory disorders, but she had also instilled her enthusiasm towards science in me as well.” That supportive environment helped Dr. Olazagoitia-Garmendia overcome difficult moments such as when it seemed like nothing was working in her project. Despite the limitations of working in a small group, the team-based efforts of her lab have produced several interesting publications, such as “The T1D-associated lncRNA Lnc13 modulates human pancreatic β cell inflammation by allele-specific stabilization of STAT1 mRNA.” PNAS (2020) and “Gluten-induced RNA methylation changes regulate intestinal inflammation via allele-specific XPO1 translation in epithelial cells.” Gut. 71, BMJ (2021). Moreover, her advisor has always encouraged her to go to conferences and meetings, providing her with the opportunities to meet other scientists and to learn how to present her research. In addition, due to being in Dr. Castellanos-Rubio’s lab, she was able to spend 3 months at Dr. Chuan He’s lab at the University of Chicago. She stated, “it was amazing to be in one of the major labs in epitranscriptomics.” While in Chicago, she had the opportunity to work with Dr. Qing Dai and Dr. Hui-Lung Sun, both of whom proved to be excellent mentors during the time they spent teaching and advising her.  

To beginning graduate students, Dr. Olazagoitia-Garmendia advised students not to hurry. She also added, “Make sure you go to a lab where you will be able to learn, but also to enjoy your work. Working as a researcher is often frustrating, so I found it important to be motivated by my project and to always keep trying to find the answer. Even if sometimes you have to try 1000 times.” She also advised that spending time to find a great lab is time that is very well spent, particularly if you are not sure what research you want to pursue. In addition, she stated that it is very important to reconcile the hours you work in the lab with self-care, such as doing sports, meeting friends and family, and getting time for yourself outside of the lab.

When asked about the greatest challenge she has encountered in her career, Dr. Olazagoitia-Garmendia mentioned that it was living the Covid-19 pandemic during her Ph.D. She recalled, “I was in the middle of the thesis when the pandemic started. Like everyone else, I had personal hard times, but professionally it was not easy either.” The uncertainty of the future scared her, and she started wondering if she would have enough time to finish her Ph.D. “We all have the same fears and concerns, like when will I publish my work? Will I have a supportive mentor? Will I be able to finish my Ph.D.?” She also agrees that it is very enriching to meet other students and share your feelings, so one realizes that you are not alone. Thanks to different virtual RNA meetings and conferences, she realized that the entire community had similar thoughts and problems. She said, “Once again, sharing my feelings with other colleagues helped a lot.”

As a woman in science who is surrounded by women in science, Dr. Olazagoitia-Garmendia feels immense admiration for all women that, despite many obstacles, decide to stay in science. She states, “I think that seeing more women in our field that are starting their labs and becoming group leaders motivates Ph.D. students and early post-docs to keep working.” She then added, “I would like to thank them, starting with my mentors Drs. Ainara Castellanos-Rubio and Izortze Santin, for being great references, and I would like to praise their efforts to make science a place of equality.” She is confident that working as part of a more equitable scientific community will be beneficial for all.

Her favorite manuscript in RNA is Evolutionary divergence of Firre localization and expression, RNA (2022) by Much et. al. “One of the main issues when I was working with lncRNAs was the lack of murine homologs of candidates to test our results in mice models. Then I came across this nice work showing the complexity of lncRNAs,  highlighting the dynamic nature of these molecules.” Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, she has yet to attend an in-person RNA Society meeting, but she hopes she can make it to the 2024 meeting in Scotland. Dr. Olazagoitia-Garmendia can be found on Twitter @ane_ola. When asked about her favorite RNA, she said, “Considering my background, I have no doubts in choosing a favorite RNA: lncRNAs.” She finds the many biological functions of lncRNAs to be interesting, and many aspects are yet to be elucidated. She then ended saying, “Combining lncRNAs with RNA modifications results in an exciting modern RNA world to be discovered.”

You can find Dr. Olazagoitia-Garmendia on twitter @ane_ola