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Joshua Leitao, ScM

Joshua Leitão
ScM Research Assistant and Lab Manager
Brown University
Providence, Rhode Island, USA

Meet Joshua Leitão, who shared his story for #IAmAScientist and tells us about his unique journey and what it’s like to be pioneer amongst his own family members.

What’s your favorite memory you have of your work?

When my research supervisor documented the work my lab members had conducted and submitted it to a scientific journal; it was accepted!

Which scientific discovery inspires you?

The discovery of the double helix structure of DNA inspires me when I’m performing molecular biology experiments.

Why did you choose to pursue science?

I knew very early on that I wanted to pursue science: specifically, biotechnology. I was fascinated with how scientists could manipulate microbes to produce lifesaving drugs and vaccines. I truly wanted to be a part of the biotechnological revolution. In high school, I enrolled in a biotech academy, which required me to do a science project and present my results at the school’s science fair. As a junior, I developed a small project that investigated nicotine levels in various tobacco plant species. I earned an award, and that’s when it clicked in my head, “I can do science.”

At Roger Williams University I graduated summa cum laude with a double major in biology and chemistry, a minor in public health, and a certificate in biotechnology. As a first-generation college student coming from a less-fortunate background, I’d never even thought about furthering my education after college. Obtaining a bachelor’s degree was considered the highest achievement, academically speaking, in my family. But instead of transitioning to a career in the industry, I entered a master’s program in molecular microbiology and immunology (MMI) at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland. I found myself drawn to a lab that investigated the host immune evasion mechanisms by the parasite Trypanosoma brucei, which is the causative agent of human African trypanosomiasis (HAT).

My master’s degree provided a platform for my interest in vaccines, as I was interested in investigating how microbes can bypass the host immune system. I currently work at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island as a research assistant and laboratory manager in the Department of Molecular Biology, Cell Biology, and Biochemistry (MCB). I am leading projects investigating the regulation of autophagy via genetic and pharmacological approaches in Caenorhabditis elegans, with implications of treating Alzheimer’s disease. Overall, as a scientist, my goal is to utilize the skills and knowledge I have gained to develop lifesaving therapeutics to impact human health.

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