Javier Allende Labastida

San Luis Potosí, México

Degree program:
PhD in Basic Biomedical Sciences,
Cell Biology

The University of Texas Medical Branch
at Galveston

Advisor: Dr. Ping Wu

How did you first learn about the ConTex scholarship program?

I was invited by UTMB’s deans to a meeting with ConTex staff to share my experiences of being a CONACYT scholarship recipient. I was not able to attend the meeting. However, the dean explained to me what he learned about the newly developing program and encouraged me to apply.

Tell us about your research and the reasons why it is important to you.

My project focuses on the development, optimization, and characterization of a clinically relevant animal model of traumatic brain injury (TBI). When I joined the Wu lab, I replicated a closed skull model of traumatic brain injury. However, once built, I realized that several components of the model could introduce variability. To address this, we implemented different sensors to measure the forces involved in the trauma. By understanding and measuring the magnitude of the forces involved in the injury, we can monitor the components that introduce variability and modify them to improve the probability of reproducing the results. These measurements will allow for the standardization of the injuries and comparison of lesions between different models, which improves the generated evidence by providing metrics for comparison of results among different laboratories. We are using this model to test potential treatments and study pathophysiological mechanisms in traumatic brain injury.

My internship year in medical school exposed me to traumatic brain injury. During service rotations in the ER and neurosurgery, I was involved in the care of several patients with this condition. Currently, there is no treatment for TBI. Traumatic brain injury is the primary cause for morbidity and mortality in children and young adults worldwide. It is a chronic disease with significant consequences, generated in an instant by a single event, usually due to an accident. It is a disease that affects the family as much as the person who suffers it, with impairments in motor function, memory, attention, mood disorder, and even changes in personality.  

What have been the most challenging and rewarding aspects of studying at UTMB and living in the U.S.?

The most challenging aspect has been learning skills and theory outside of my background, as well as facing changes to my project. It has been challenging, and at times frustrating, but I have learned a lot from the process and I hope this will help me become a better researcher and mentor someday.

The most rewarding aspect of studying at UTMB has been working in an environment where you continuously have access to novel research and great national and international investigators. I have been fortunate to work within a group of researchers who study traumatic brain injury. At least once a month they have an invited speaker from the Neurotrauma field, journal clubs, or updates in research lectures. This kind of stimulating environment allows for creativity and collaboration.

In a personal context, the most rewarding aspect of living in the U.S. has been the friendships I have made. I have been fortunate to meet great people from all over the world. I have enjoyed learning from all of them about their cultures, what drives them, etc.

Tell us about how your other experiences abroad have helped you during this phase of your educational journey.

Exposure to English at a young age and for a year in an academic setting in high school helped me adapt quickly to the university and classes. With the foundation of the English language, it was easier to acquire the technical aspects in classes. Additionally, having visited Texas in the past, I had an idea of what to expect in terms of life here.

How do you hope your research will influence the bi-national relationship between the U.S. and Mexico in the future?

I hope I can help build bridges between researchers on both sides. I started working with a pediatric neurologist in a pilot study that was presented in a poster session at the American Academy of Neurology. I am currently trying to connect researchers from a couple of institutions in Mexico with Principal investigators at UTMB to initiate collaborative projects. I am also encouraging them to apply to ConTex funding opportunities. 

What advice would you give other Mexican students who may be considering studying in Texas?

I would advise them to apply – it is definitely worth it. I would suggest to them to reach out to the researchers that they are interested in working with, learning more from the investigators and their research, as well as allowing the investigators to know them.

It is always good to have somebody at the university you are applying to who supports your application. Additionally, through the ConTex network, to contact students at the universities they want to attend, learn about the environment, professors and life in the city. I would also suggest applying to the ConTex scholarship. It is a great opportunity.