Nguyen-Vi Mohamed

Postdoctoral fellow in neuropathologies in Dr Fon's laboratory

I was born/grew up in: Paris, France

I now live in: Montreal, Quebec, Canada

I completed my training/education at: I did my Masters degree at University Paris V in France. Then I went to University of Montreal for my Ph.D. I'm now a postdoctoral fellow at the Montreal Neurological Institute of McGill University.

Describe what you do at work.

My work is to develop a new model similar to the real human brain, in order to better understand Parkinson’s disease and find new drugs. From patients’ stem cells, which can give rise to any body cell type, I produce neurons. Those neurons grow in three dimensions, self-organize with other neuronal cells, similar to the real human brain. They reach 4 mm in size and can be kept in culture up to two years. This new model in research is called “organoid brain” or “minibrain”. This innovative model allows me to investigate the mechanisms leading to Parkinson’s disease.

I spend time every day making minibrains, feeding them, and performing experiments after they have grown for a few weeks. In order to have success in my experiments, I criticize my results every day. There are a lot of failures before getting a positive result. But we learn a lot from failures, which help us improve the science. Moreover, my research involves a lot of teamwork. Thanks to the expertise of everyone in the laboratory, we solve problems every day and make important discoveries together. In my laboratory, people come from many places (China, Ireland, France, Mexico, India, Iran) and we speak English to understand each other and talk science. I think a good scientist is someone who has curiosity, tenacity, and who is open minded.

When I was a student I enjoyed:

How does your job affect people’s lives?

I try to understand the mechanisms of Parkinson’s disease in order to discover new drugs to cure the disease.

What motivates you in your career?

Like all ageing western societies, Canada is facing a huge socioeconomic burden associated with neurodegenerative diseases. This is happening because there are only limited treatments and no cures for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. These diseases present challenges for drug discovery. I like the discovery challenge and that this work is important. I love my work because I try to help people. I’m passionate about my work because it’s interesting and important to find a cure.

This career is ideal for me because I like to help people, and I’m very curious. I like to learn and discover things every day. Moreover, to find answers, we need creativity to design our experiments. It’s very stimulating. The other aspect that I really like is the fact that we share our knowledge across the world. We present our results at international conferences and build collaborative relationships with other scientists. Biomedical sciences are a collaborative process and this helps speed up our discoveries.

When I was a student, I would have described myself as someone who:

Describe your career path to this career.

I always knew that I would like to work in the biomedical field to help people. I was always very excited about science and my favorite class was mathematics. For the first two years of my Bachelor’s I was not focused at all. Looking back, I realize it’s because nothing interested me. However, when I came across neuroscience – that is when everything changed. I am totally fascinated by the brain – this organ that defines who you are. While I’m totally committed to studying the brain, I also have an interest in baking. When I arrived in Montreal I opened two bakeries. I still run these today in addition to my academic life. I love working with my hands, creating something that others will enjoy. I find that working in a bakery and working in a lab have a lot in common. We work as a team to control temperature and humidity.

What activities do you like to do outside of work?

I’m a very active woman and I like sports! For years I have played competitive rugby. I’m climbing now and I hope to practice jujitsu soon as I did when I was in secondary school. Because I have always liked science, planes naturally attracted me with the physics behind flight. I took flight classes and learned to fly planes in my early 20’s. I was able to fly before getting my driver license! I used to volunteer in biomedical and educational fields but also in the art field because I promote artists’ work by exhibiting their art in my bakeries.

What advice or encouragement would you give others seeking a similar career?

Follow your passions. Do what makes you happy and excited about.


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