Featured Article May 29, 2019

Beyond the bench: Making a community impact

Luis Sordo Vieira, Laubenbacher Lab at The Jackson Laboratory
JAX Postdoctoral Associate Luis Sordo Vieira, Ph.D. Photo by Jared Skolnick.

Inside the walls of The Jackson Laboratory (JAX), scientists are busy each day conducting molecular biology experiments in the lab, analyzing genomic data using computational approaches, and sharing with one another their findings to advance our understanding of complex human diseases. 

While publications in leading scientific journals are essential in disseminating new knowledge to the scientific community, it is also vital that scientists share their discoveries with the public.

This is where science policy can play a role. 

This is not lost on Luis Sordo VieiraBuilding predictive mathematical models to investigate the role of iron and the tumor microenvironment on cancer progression.Luis Sordo Vieira, Ph.D., a postdoctoral associate in the laboratory of JAX and UConn Health Professor and Director of UConn Health's Center for Quantitative Medicine Reinhard Laubenbacher, Ph.D.Interested in the mechanistic modeling of multi-scale disease processes, in particular infectious diseases and cancer.Reinhard Laubenbacher, Ph.D. 

"I've always been into outreach… I love talking to people, and so science policy seems to be a good way of making an impact," says Sordo Vieira.

Trained as a mathematician, Sordo Vieira's work in the Laubenbacher lab focuses on using computational models to understand how iron metabolism changes in tumor cells and how this impacts tumor growth. 

Sordo Vieira was recently awarded a fellowship in Science Policy from the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics that will allow him to advocate for support of science research with federal officials and congressional staff. Selected fellows serve a two-year term that includes training on effective communication, budget allocation and policy issues, as well as meetings with lawmakers, legislators and federal agency officials. 

Sordo Vieira has already had the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C., to meet with staff members from the offices of several members of Congress, including Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT). Sordo Vieira shared with congressional staffers the importance of computational research and said he was well received.

"They were extremely interested in what our research [in the Laubenbacher lab] was about," says Sordo Vieira.

"It is our responsibility as scientists to help the public and our politicians understand the role of science in policy decisions, and we leave this to others at our peril," Laubenbacher of UConn Health/JAX says. "Luis is a very articulate and passionate scientist who thinks deeply about the relationship between science and society, so he makes a great spokesperson for our community."

Sordo Vieira also has an equally essential and personal passion: increasing diversity in science.  He moved to Michigan from Valencia, Venezuela when he was 12-years-old. That experience has helped him recognize the importance of promoting diversity in STEM fields.

"I love research, but it is important to be involved in our community and do more than just lab work," he says. 

Sordo Vieira was recently appointed to the Senior Leadership Team of Lathisms, a project focused on highlighting the accomplishments and contributions of Latinx and Hispanic mathematicians during Hispanic Heritage Month, celebrated each year from September 15 to October 15.  He was a featured scientist for the project during the 2018 celebration, highlighting his accomplishments as a research mathematician.

"We know that a diverse workforce contributes to better results, so it’s important for us to support policies that improve access to resources that lead to careers in our field," Laubenbacher says. The topic touches me personally," Laubenbacher continues. "I grew up in an economically disadvantaged environment that did not send kids to college. I was just lucky. But if we engage constructively in the political process, we can create more opportunity, and luck becomes a much less important part of the equation. Luis is certainly doing his part to make a difference."