Diego was born and grew up in La Paz, Bolivia. His father and grandfather were both lawyers, and his mother was a history and geography teacher. They explained to Diego while he was still a boy that there were two ways of making a living and providing for his family – he could become either a lawyer or a doctor. Diego has finally made his own way: becoming a researcher.
His parents always wanted him to have every possible chance in life. For Diego and his brother, the day didn't finish at the school gates – they both took foreign language classes at the Alliance française and the English Institute. Diego's mother believed that this was the best way of providing her sons with a gateway to the wider world and giving them giving every opportunity to secure a good job.
In his free time, Diego liked sport, especially skateboarding – which he still loves to this day – and tennis. He had daily tennis lessons and took part in competitions. This rigorous upbringing gave Diego patience, tenacity and an appetite for hard work.
Departure for the United-States
When he finished school, Diego pursued the idea of studying science. His parents supported him financially and he set off for the United States to study at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, where he obtained a Bachelor's degree in Chemistry. During this four-year period, alongside his studies, he worked in two laboratories.
"I realize that it was a fantastic opportunity to leave my country and learn new things. In the labs, I received lots of encouragement, it was very positive."
He continued his studies at Princeton and Harvard. Diego has fond memories of those years. "You find yourself at a university alongside scientists whose articles you have read, you bump into Nobel laureates, and all this outstanding research ends up rubbing off on you!"
In his final year at Harvard, as well as taking classes, Diego also worked in a laboratory. In the Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology, he worked on an original project led by Lida Katsimpardi – with whom he would later come into contact at the Institut Pasteur. Lida's work focused on a number of questions: "Can we slow down the aging process and rejuvenate an aged brain? Can we repair a brain that has been damaged by a neurodegenerative disease?" And it was during this collaborative work that our young scientist made a chance discovery and stumbled upon an innovative technique.
Diego was following an existing protocol*, but he was in a hurry – he was running late for Christmas dinner – and he accidentally used the wrong antibody. This mistake revealed an effective new method– an original technique which received high praise when it was made known. A little later, during a seminar given by Lida at the Institut Pasteur in Paris, Diego's know-how in histology and microscopic imaging analysis were spotted by Chiara Zurzolo, Head of the Membrane Traffic and Pathogenesis Unit. He was approached with an offer to carry out his PhD in her Paris-based laboratory.
I never imagined that I would do my PhD in Europe – I presumed that it would be in the United States! But after an interview with Chiara, I accepted the proposal.
A PhD at the Institut Pasteur
When I first arrived, Paris seemed too dense, too close, everything was too small... But I still had so much to discover. Since then I have learned a lot and I realize that France and Europe as a whole are real melting pots with a wealth of culture."
At the moment, Diego needs to knuckle down and concentrate on writing his thesis, which he will defend in late 2019. The team recently published a paper in Nature Communications demonstrating the existence of microscopic links known as "tunneling nanotubes", used by cells to "communicate" and exchange biological material with each other. Diego, co-author of this publication, was responsible for writing the manuscript, assembling the figures and movies, carrying out fluorescent and live-imaging experiments, and analyzing data obtained using electron microscopy.
He doesn't yet know what he will do after his PhD. Paris or elsewhere... The world is a big place, and after all, the scientific community speaks the same language everywhere. For this traveler whose research has taken him all over the world, there are still countless countries waiting to be discovered.
* The iDISCO tissue clearing protocol, developed in the laboratory of Mark Tessier-Lavigne at The Rockefeller University in the United States, which renders tissues transparent so they can be observed under a microscope.
Key dates in Diego Cordero Cervantes' career
2016-present: PPU Graduate Student, Laboratory of Chiara Zurzolo, Cell Biology and Infection Department, Pasteur Institute
2014-2016: Research Technician, Laboratory of Lee Rubin, Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology Department, Harvard University
2013-2014: Research Assistant, Laboratory of Asif Ghazanfar, Psychology and Neuroscience Institute, Princeton University
2012-2013: Undergraduate research assistant, Laboratory of Megan Williams, Neurobiology and Anatomy Department, University of Utah
2009-2013: Undergraduate research assistant, Laboratory of Daryl Kropf, Biology Department, University of Utah
2009-2013: Bachelor’s Degree in Chemistry with distinctions in research, University of Utah