Meet Ana-Maria, a PhD student in Dr. Omar Khan’s lab. Ana-Maria’s journey seamlessly weaves together her love for art, her dedication to advancing scientific frontiers, and her commitment to breaking barriers in the medical field. From her passion for biomedical engineering to her deep-rooted motivation rooted in personal experiences, Ana-Maria’s story unveils a multifaceted individual who thrives on embracing her identity and using her unique perspective to make a meaningful impact. In this candid interview, Ana-Maria shares her insights on how different forms of expression, her journey with a congenital neurological disorder, and her nonprofit endeavors all contribute to shaping her inspiring narrative.
I’ve always been expressive, finding ways to convey myself through art, writing, and science. I see these as different forms of expression that complement each other. Biomedical engineering lets me combine my creativity and scientific skills—it’s like creative development using scientific techniques and rigor. Designing solutions in this field ignites my excitement. It’s the fusion of these worlds that makes me choose BME.
To me, science is a remarkable tool to advance human flourishing, as exemplified by the far-reaching benefits of technologies like vaccines and antibiotics. The scientific method has enhanced our potential. It is a powerful means by which we can promote our collective well-being. On a personal level, I’m interested in addressing neurological disorders, a frontier in science. It’s challenging area due to the complexities of neural tissue, but I’m determined to contribute to progress, whether through multipurpose tools or specialized therapies.
I was fascinated by Dr. Khan’s use of lipopolymers in neurological contexts. Speaking to him at BME’s meet and greet event solidified my interest, and the bridge he drew between nanotechnology and molecular neuroscience sparked my passion. Currently, I’m developing novel lipids for lipid nanoparticles, hoping to address mitochondrial engineering, which could be groundbreaking for neurological diseases. While my current work is not directly tied to neurology, it has the potential to make an impact in the future.
Spina bifida, my congenital neurological disorder, has been a driving force in my life. This condition, though not outwardly evident, motivates many of my pursuits. It’s why I’m determined to contribute to treatments for neurological diseases. Growing up with it has exposed me to significant challenges but it has also provided me the privilege of meeting remarkable individuals navigating severe conditions with grace and resilience. These individuals inspire me to push boundaries and use my abilities to make a difference.
Navigating identity was difficult during my teenage years. Outwardly, I looked ‘normal’ but faced distinct challenges because of my condition. Hiding this aspect of my life led to internal dissonance and prevented proper self-care. Joining a peer support group changed my perspective. Embracing vulnerability and sharing my story empowered me and helped others understand. Now, I derive strength from openly acknowledging my experiences. It’s about owning my journey, supporting others, and breaking down stigma.
Together with a colleague, I co-founded STEM PASS, a nonprofit addressing the financial barriers in medical school and STEM admissions. Many capable students lack resources, affecting their chances. Our goal is to provide mentorship and small bursaries to help level the playing field. This project has taught us practical skills, all while supporting students who feel disempowered by the process. Empowering others is a driving force behind my work.
Art has always been my outlet, a space to find joy. Drawing landscapes and nature, especially the mountains of my hometown, Vancouver, connects me to my roots. It’s a reminder of the beauty around us. Art is my sanctuary, a space where I can express myself freely.
Identity is multifaceted and unique; it’s not about fitting into predefined labels. My priority has been to embrace doing things that ignite my passion. Pursuing diverse interests may seem unrelated to others, but they all bring me joy and contribute to my purpose in complementary ways. The shift from trying to manage others’ perceptions to authentically enjoying life’s pursuits has been liberating and empowering.