She is a researcher, professor and author of over 80 scientific publications. And it's with her that we are kicking off "STEM voices”, a set of videos where some STEM leaders share with us their personal and professional story. Let's discover together who is Myriam Alcalay and the world of Omics Sciences.
Can you introduce yourself?
I’m Myriam Alcalay and I’m full professor of Medical Genetics at Università degli Studi di Milano. I’m also the Head of a Functional Genomics Unit and coordinate the technologies units of the Experimental Oncology Department at the European Institute of Oncology.
You have a PhD in Hematology. Why have you chosen to explore this specific branch of Medicine?
What intrigued me the most throughout all my studies, were the mechanisms underlying the origins of diseases. Besides the clinical activity, I have always been interested in the scientific and research part behind Medicine. Then, at the end of my university path, I wrote a dissertation about the genetics of cancer, and that’s when I completely fell in love with the world of scientific research.
The number of STEM degrees has significantly increased over time. If you were a student today, would you choose another path?
When I was a student, there weren’t so many opportunities. I chose a university path which was pretty standard at the time. However, I have no regrets, I’m really satisfied with my life and the choices made. Nowadays, there are wonderful degrees out there so it’s possible that, if I were a young student today, I would make different choices. In general, I like to think that I would have attended a postgraduate specialisation. I’m happy about my degree in Medicine, I’m happy about my studies but maybe I would have later picked one of these very cool Masters which are now available for students.
What are Genomics and, more generally, Omics Sciences?
Genomics is the study of genomes. It involves the study of the genetic content’s structure, functions, organization and interaction with the nucleus’ proteins, and so on. It’s very different from traditional Genetics, which explored specific genes one by one. Essentially, Genomics analyses the functioning of genomes within cells in a holistic way. The decoding of human genome has led to the development of all the other Omics Sciences, such as Proteomics, Metabolomics, Epigenomics, and so on. These sciences study the different cell functions globally.
What fascinates you the most about Omics Sciences?
First of all, their ability to analyse entirely and quantitatively biological phenomena. Substantially, Omics don’t study a specific protein or gene, but all the proteins and genes of a cell simultaneously. This provides you with a totally different idea of what’s happening within a cell, if compared to the study of single units: It’s a bit like observing a house as a whole, instead of looking at the single bricks. Furthermore, I’m fascinated by their translational potential, that is their ability to help out specialists making useful decisions for patients.