Your name, program, mentor name.
My name is Fernando Barreto de Moura, I am an Integrated Multidisciplinary Graduate Program student (now called Integrated Biomedical Sciences program) getting a doctorate in Pharmacology. I work in the lab of Dr. Lance R. McMahon in the Department of Pharmacology.
When did you realize you were passionate about science?
Well, I don’t know if there is an exact moment that I thought, “hey, I like science!” I grew up with my father, who’s a mathematician, and he always instilled a keen interest in science for me. But when I was an undergrad, I did a summer research fellowship at the University of Maryland in Baltimore, and that was my first time doing bench-top science. At that point, I was studying psychology in the hopes of being a counselor of some sort. But at UMB, I fell in love with experimentation. That’s when I realized that I wanted to be a scientist.
Please tell me about yourself, why did you pick UT Health Science Center, and your program.
My name is Fernando. I was born in Brazil, grew up all over America, and I’ve been married to my best friend, Ursula (a very talented writer), for seven years on February 16th. I chose The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio because of the behavioral pharmacology group we have down here, so naturally, I chose to get a degree in pharmacology.
Tell me about your research. Why are you passionate about your research topic? How did you first become interested in it?
My research attempts to elucidate the receptors that mediate the effects of nicotinic drugs in vivo. I first became interested in nicotine research as an undergrad, as I wrote my honors thesis measuring nicotine metabolism in smokers. Tobacco use is a worldwide epidemic, and we know surprisingly little (my personal assessment of how much we know) about the in vivo mechanisms of nicotine and nicotinic drugs. A part of that is due to the fact that we don’t really have the best pharmacological tools to tease apart all the different nicotinic receptors, so we have to be creative in how we study nicotinic drugs. I became fascinated with a nicotinic drug called varenicline because when I first joined the McMahon lab, there some experiments in which varenicline did not “do” what would be expected of it based on basic pharmacology theories. And this turned out to be a very elaborate puzzle that was exciting to the start putting together.
What do you want the public to know about your research? Why is your topic important?
I’d tell them that we are still working on ways to develop better pharmacotherapies, but right now, we are limited in how we can approach smoking cessation, but please keep funding basic research! This topic is important simply because approximately five million people die each year from tobacco related illnesses worldwide.
What was your best memory during graduate school or what did you learn?
I think the most excited I ever was for a class was the Behavioral Pharmacology class taught by Dr. Charles France. It was pretty great being taught the history of the field that I fell in love with these last few years, and to get those lessons by someone who is very passionate themselves, and also very well established in the field. It was also interesting having a somewhat first hand historical assessment of how some events in behavioral pharmacology unfolded (I should mention, I’m not saying Dr. France is old, but that behavioral pharmacology in some senses is relatively young).
I accepted a postdoctoral fellowship in the Preclinical Pharmacology Laboratory of McLean Hospital at Harvard Medical School under the tutelage of Dr. Jack Bergman, so my wife and I are headed to Boston in March.