Leonel Montealegre-Sánchez

I am Leonel Ives Montealegre-Sánchez, biologist and PhD candidate in Biomedical Sciences at Universidad del Valle (Cali, Colombia). My professional interests are related to the characterization of snake venoms in order to understand the physiopathology of the snakebite envenoming, develop more efficient treatments and discover pharmacological applications of its components. In 2008 I started work as a research assistant contributing to the characterization of Colombian snake venoms, the assessment of the neutralization efficacy of anti-venoms produced in the country, and the development of antimalarial vaccines. Then, I worked as a lab manager for five years, before I started my PhD studies.

As part of my PhD project we were able to find some snake venom components with antitumor activities. Currently, we are looking for more advanced tecniques that would allow us to identify molecular mechanisms and key pharmacological targets. This will require new assay development of high throughput screenings (HTS) and big data recording/handling/analysis skills. That is why with the support of my research group, I decided to apply for the WCAIR training program at the Drug Discovery Unit (DDU) of the University of Dundee.

I came to Dundee in February 2020 and had a great time meeting the DDU scientists, the WCAIR trainers, and other trainees that came from very distant regions of the world. I also enjoyed the amazing laboratory infrastructure, cutting-edge equipment and the academic environment at the School of Life Sciences. It is very inspiring to witness how such a diverse group of people can work together efficiently to find cures for diseases that affect heavily the countries we came from. For me, it is a big honour to be part of such an important institution. During my first month and guided by the Biology trainer Sandra O’Neill, I was able to improve my Cat-2 cell culture skills and learn about techniques for the assessment of ligand-target interactions and the isolation of cancer cells from blood. I also had the opportunity to participate in public engagement activities, and attend seminars and lectures about the Drug Discovery process and its challenges. Unfortunately, by March we had to leave the School because of the social distancing measures taken regarding the Covid-19 outbreak. However, our learning did not end there and we have been receiving online-based relevant training on Biology, Chemistry and Drug Metabolism and Pharmacokinetics. We have also been guided through the Drug Discovery pipeline, learning key grant proposal writing/management skills. I am very grateful for the effort the trainers and the DDU-WCAIR staff have put in to keep us learning and safe during these uncertain times.

As the first Colombian ever in this program, I have the responsibility to do my best to transfer this knowledge back to my home institution and I hope to encourage other Latin-American scientists working with neglected infectious diseases to apply for training at the WCAIR and together contribute to the reduction of the burden that these diseases cause to the most vulnerable populations in our countries.