from: Sarai Kestra
what: Medical researcher and medical student
TRUE: Amsterdam UMC, in the Departments of Epidemiology and Pediatrics.
Stady: Humanities (University College London) and Medical Anthropology (Durham University), then the Bridging Program in Medicine at the University of Amsterdam.
Promotion about: What role do the first 1,000 days play in shaping your health? I’m trying to understand it from an evolutionary perspective. I mainly look at the thyroid gland, which is an essential organ for energy management in our bodies.
I chose this field for the following reasons: The first 1000 days of pregnancy are the basis for a healthy life. Although we inherited genes from our parents which supposedly make up the “instruction book” about who we are and how we look, I find it fascinating that the early living environment can influence the effect of this. We humans are very diverse and plastic beings, and I’m excited to better understand how genes and the environment work together to make us who we are. Plus, take a special look at the thyroid gland, a butterfly-shaped organ in your neck that plays an important role in regulating growth, brain development, and metabolism. The thyroid gland is particularly interesting because it has been with us for so long in our evolutionary history. Thyroid problems nowadays mainly occur in women in the western world, especially around pregnancy and menopause, and are a subject of little exposure in medical science. As a scientist, I think it is very important to pay attention to health issues that primarily affect women, such as thyroid problems, as well as autoimmune diseases or menstrual complaints.
Boy: She was born at home on May 19, 1997 in Amsterdam. At that time, 35% of births took place at home, while this percentage was only less than 15%.
The best thing about being a scientist: The feeling when you find something new. Because then you’re the only person in the world who at that moment knows something about how we all work. The best thing is to pass this story on to others. Because what’s the point of doing all kinds of very interesting research if no one knows about it then. Getting people excited about your research is one of the best things about being a scientist, which is why Faces of Science is so awesome!
Most memorable moments as a scientist: Lots to choose! In the summer of 2018, for example, I spent a few weeks with Bayaka fishermen in northern Congo-Brazzaville. There I learned as much about how they live and see the world, as much about how strange it really is to live in Europe and Western society. Another special moment was when she helped with excavations in Atapuerca, Spain, where the oldest human remains have been found in Western Europe. One day I found there a dog tooth of a lion that must have died at least 450,000 years ago. We also came across a hand-axe that was probably last held by one of our human ancestors. I find these experiences special, because then I learn more about what it means to be human.
The hardest thing about being a scientist: Each time you answer a question, three questions are added. But you can’t explore all three of these new questions at once. Which question will you focus on first? Every time you say “yes” to an interesting project, you also say “no” to other important things as well. This also applies to the balance between private life and life as a scientist. There are countless fun projects to work on, but it’s also important to try to “turn yourself off” now and then and enjoy life around you.
hobbies: Reading, singing, drawing, traveling and going to the cinema with friends.
What do you hope to achieve by blogging on Faces of Science: I think curiosity is one of the most beautiful human traits. As children, we ask a lot of questions, but most of us lose this curiosity as we get older. As a blogger for Faces of Science, I hope to stimulate this curiosity again with my enthusiasm for asking questions. In addition, I think it is important not only to ask how the world works, but also why things look the way they are and how you arrive at a particular answer. I want to make it clear that being a scientist is a diverse and creative profession, where you look at the world forever with childlike admiration.
Who is your great example? When I was a kid my role model was definitely Jane Goodall, a pioneer in chimpanzee research and behaviour. At the time, the study of primates and human evolution was still a stronghold of man. She is now 88 years old and remains committed to sustainable conservation. I’ve always been intrigued by Mary Anning, born in 1799 in southwest England, who found her first ichthyosaur fossil at the age of 12. This is a kind of sea monster from the time of the dinosaurs. Its fossil discoveries at the time contributed to scientists realizing that animals could become extinct, which eventually led to the development of the theory of evolution.
What did you want to be when you were 7? “Animal Professor” or detective.
And when you were 17 years old: paleoanthropologist (she then investigates the evolution of extinct human species through fossils and DNA research).
Best reaction to your search: Although research on thyroid seemed very relevant to me at first, I find it very fascinating to note that many people have a personal story. About themselves or about a family member/friend/acquaintance who has a thyroid problem and thus becomes very excited about my research. Since patients often come to the doctor with vague complaints, it often takes a long time before something is done about it. They feel like they are finally being heard.
Me and the media:
Political pressure in the UK prompted more universities to report clinical trial results, Ed Silverman, (2022), STAT News
Africa must address failures in technology sharing, Frances Kokotsi (2021), university news
Passing exams and planning protests – Students’ role in the drug access movement, MSF
Sofia Weiss Guitandia delves into access to medicines, vaccines, and the COVID-19 pandemic with medical anthropologist and health equality advocate Sarai Kestra, multidisciplinary expert, Harvard Public Health
Pushing for New Vaccines, Taxpayers Continue to Pay and Pay, Samanth Subramanian, (2021), Quartz
Over 1,600 clinical trials run by UK universities in violation of reporting rules, Till Bruckner, (2020), Transmed