The daughter of a teacher and an engineer, Vérida Léandre PhD’17 has found her calling in Brown’s Department of Molecular Pharmacology, Physiology, and Biotechnology, where she’s researching how body fat works. As a doctoral student in the lab of Edith Mathiowitz, PhD, professor of medical science and of engineering, Léandre, 26, is studying how brown adipose tissue—a fat that human babies and hibernating mammals burn to keep warm—can help adults lose weight.
With her “army of undergraduates” as lab assistants, she implants proteins into rats that encourage stem cells to grow into brown instead of white adipose tissue, which stores energy, and makes us fat. The technique, if it works, could become “a cell-based therapy for obesity,” Léandre says, though she’s a long way from that goal. “I’m sometimes frustrated about my relative lack of progress,” she says. Yet she’s already been presenting her research, including at a conference in Scotland last year. “It felt really cool to be part of the global scientific community,” she says. And she finds daily satisfaction training students. “I take almost every opportunity to teach,” as a TA, mentor, and volunteer math and science instructor in a Providence after-school program. “If I can explain something to a 10-year-old, I can explain it to anyone,” she says.
(Not) Just a Game: As the social chair of the MPPB student group, Léandre organizes board game nights; Clue is her favorite. “I get strangely competitive,” she says. “I’ve flipped my fair share of Clue boards.”
Personal Touch: This anime-inspired
caricature of Léandre, drawn by one of her undergrads, is one of many meaningful pieces of art that decorate her lab bench.
Fish for Answers: As a TA, Léandre encouraged students to drop
questions they were reluctant to ask in class
into this aquarium. The “Gold!” refers to the cutout goldfish, “plus questions are gold!”
Office Magic: Léandre and a labmate made this whiteboard for her bench. “We have lots
of weird stuff lying
around in our lab,”
she says. “We found sheets of whiteboard. I said, ‘How do I make this better?’”
She’s Got Rhythm: “I started playing the tambourine for
the band because I
to do with my hands
while I was singing,” Léandre says. But she plays “too enthusiastically,” she adds: “I had a huge bruise on my thigh after one show.”
Family Ties: Léandre with her sisters, Alexandra,
center, and Yvette, right. She also has
an older brother, Trenton. “Family and science are the biggest things in my life,” she says.
Cutting Edge: Léandre wears these cut-resistant gloves for cryosectioning: cutting tissue into very thin slices in a -30°C chamber. “Only your hands are in there,” she says. “Taking breaks is crucial. If you can’t feel your fingers, that’s a problem.”
Dynamic Duo: Léandre and her friend Elaina Atherton ’12 ScM’14 PhD’21 are the folk-blues band Big Jim and the Sister Wives (“Jim is fictional”). Watch them perform at http://www.labtv.com/Home/Profile?researcherId=1324