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CHOP Postdoctoral Alliance Spotlights Women in Science Committee

Published on
May 12, 2021
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Sunetra Sase, PhD

Sunetra Sase, PhD, is head of the CPA Women in Science Committee.

Editor's Note: In this guest blog, the CHOP Postdoctoral Alliance (CPA) features Sunetra Sase, PhD, founding leader of the Women in Science Committee. The committee aims to support the personal and professional needs of women in the postdoc community. Dr. Sase is a postdoc in the Vanderver Lab. She completed her PhD at Medical University of Vienna in Austria. In this Q&A, Dr. Sase discusses her research interests, her experience as a woman in science, and she highlights the strides made by the CPA Women in Science Committee.

Q: Tell us about your research here at CHOP. Why is it important?
I am a passionate neuroscientist and work on rare leukodystrophies, which are a group of conditions that affect the white matter of the brain. These diseases damage the myelin sheath, which surrounds and protects the nerve cells in the brain. There are several different leukodystrophies, and my research area focuses on one type of leukodystrophy known as hypomyelination and atrophy of basal ganglia and cerebellum (H-ABC). A mutation in the TUBB4A gene causes H-ABC. In addition to hypomyelination, H-ABC affects the basal ganglia and the cerebellum, which control the body’s actions and movement. As a result, individuals affected with H-ABC often have motor problems, including stiffness of the muscles and joints, and problems with balance and coordination.

Typically, H-ABC affects infants, and no treatment is currently available. I am developing TUBB4A-specific molecular therapies using anti-sense oligonucleotides and AAV-mediated gene therapy. My research will establish preclinical data and proof-of-concept research working with in vivo murine models. This evidence will be key in developing these approaches further for clinical treatment of H-ABC and other TUBB4A-related disorders.

Q: “Women in Science” is a trending headline these days. What does this mean to you?
I am lucky that I was born in this era, as past women scientists were often written out of history, and their achievements were undermined. I think that the trending “Women in Science” title means that women are now respected and acknowledged for their magnificent achievements, dedication, and outstanding ability in different science fields. I am glad that the title is trending but am also sad that women in the past had to struggle. Also, I believe true equality will come when we don’t need to have these trending titles and women’s achievements are noted as often as men’s achievements.

Q: Have you had any experiences in which being a woman has made your career more cumbersome? How did you deal with those experiences?
During my undergraduate and graduate studies, I faced micro-aggressions and snide comments such as, “What will you do by educating yourself, when in the end, women’s most important job is to look over their family.” This made me sad, but at same time, it motivated me to prove that these comments mean nothing and that women can become highly successful. Fortunately, for my postdoctoral fellowship, I am working with excellent female role models, including my mentor and my colleagues, who are both highly successful in their careers and are also great moms.

Q: Tell us about your experience as the founding leader of the CPA’s Women in Science Committee and what you’ve accomplished as a group.
I have been delighted and extremely lucky to work as founding leader of the CPA’s Women in Science Committee. Our peer mentoring sessions were highly successful, and it is all because of our team’s efforts. We carried out some effective peer mentoring events, including professional development, career series, and informal talks for women. With these events, we helped women postdocs enhance their networks outside the lab, with faculty in CHOP, and eminent women from industry.

Q: Since your tenure as a committee member is coming to an end, what would you like to see the next Women in Science leader accomplish?
I am hoping to see that the next Women in Science leader will continue peer mentoring sessions, and I am curious to see the great ideas she will bring to the table when running these sessions. Personally, as a postdoc, I gained a great deal of confidence in running these sessions and networking among my peers. I hope that the next leader accomplishes the same for all women in science, as well as for herself.