Not every little girl dreams of being a biochemist when she grows up, but Teresa Giraldez, Investigator and Group Leader at the Unidad de Investigacion HUNSC in Tenerife, Spain, is an exception. “I don’t remember having too many doubts about what to study when I fi nished high school,” she says. Her parents were deeply involved in science; both her mother and father have recently retired from teaching chemistry and genetics, respectively. “I have always been exposed to science and the lifestyle of a scientist,” says Giraldez. “I cannot imagine being anything else.”
After high school, Giraldez went on to Oviedo University, studying chemistry and biochemistry. There, she came upon the electrophysiology lab of Francisco Barros and Pilar de la Peña and liked it so much that she applied for a fellowship to finish out her senior year there. De la Peña, then assistant professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, liked Giraldez so much that he off ered her a spot in the lab as a PhD student. Barros became her co-advisor. Giraldez pitched in on various aspects of the lab’s exploration of the correlation between electrical activity and intracellular calcium oscillations in pituitary cells, the relevance of h-ERG amino terminal structures on the kinetic behavior of the channel, and the hormonal regulation of h-ERG channel activity by G-protein coupled receptors. As Giraldez worked, her fascination with ion channels blossomed. “As graduate student Teresa was highly motivated, hard-working, very creative and critical,” says de la Peña. “She has always shown flexibility and an extraordinary brilliance solving practical problems.”
During her PhD work, Giraldez and de la Peña attended a scientific meeting in Sevilla, where de la Peña introduced Giraldez to Diego Alvarez de la Rosa, who had just fi nished his doctorate and was planning to set out for Lisbon. Captivated by Giraldez, he changed his plans when he found that she was headed to Segovia, a town near Madrid where her family lived. “All of a sudden, I decided that Segovia was way more interesting than Lisbon,” he says. Indeed, it turned out to be; the two married shortly thereafter. Today, not only are they partners in life, but their labs sometimes partner as well, combining their common but complementary interest in ion channels—Giraldez in the molecular and structural basis of channel function, de la Rosa in the cell biology and physiological role of the channels—to good use. “Th is enables us to approach a scientific problem from different perspectives in a way that enriches us both,” says de la Rosa. Outside the lab, the couple frequently hikes and bikes with their children, Catalina and Guillermo. “To me the most salient feature about Teresa is her ability to become interested and passionate about everything and everyone that surrounds her,” says de la Rosa. “Her example has always been there to show me not to be afraid and to fully enjoy life.”
After completing her PhD, Giraldez accompanied de la Rosa to Yale University, where de la Rosa had accepted a postdoc position. Giraldez sought out Fred Sigworth in the Department of Cellular and Molecular Physiology, and scored a postdoc position in his lab. She got to work testing out transposon-mediated GFP insertion technology on potassium channels in collaboration with Thom Hughes as a partner project to the lab’s major project developing parallel patch-clamp devices. Her ultimate aim was to monitor the kinetics of domain movements in the large conductance voltage and calciumgated potassium channel (BK). This project earned her an American Heart Association postdoctoral fellowship and the opportunity to visit William Zagotta’s lab at the University of Washington in Seattle, where she used the novel patch-clamp fl uorometry technique. “A scientist has to be smart and also highly motivated,” says Sigworth. “A successful scientist these days needs to work well with collaborators, and be a good citizen of the larger community. Teresa does all of these things well.”
Giraldez now continues this long-term project in her independent lab in the Canary Islands, collaborating with Sigworth and Miguel Holmgren (NINDS/NIH). She also studies ion channels as they relate to neuron function, focusing on both the delta isoform of the epithelial sodium channel and the BK channel. “Probably one of the fi rst things that you can see in Teresa is her enthusiasm about science in general and ion channels in particular,” says friend and colleague Donato del Camino. “It is especially evident in how much she looks forward to discussing the latest scientific topics at the Biophysics Meeting."
“Going to the BPS meeting means to get up-to-date with my research field, and to catch up with colleagues and friends,” she says. Giraldez is also a 2009 Margaret Oakley Dayhoff Awardee. “Getting this recognition from the Society helped me a lot to continue working with renewed energy,” she says. Now a member of the Committee for Professional Opportunities for Women (CPOW), Giraldez is involved in implementing Committee activities for the benefit of other Society members, an aspect of BPS that she sees as diff erent from other societies, and extremely important. “It is devoted to its members,” she says.
Giraldez, in a different but no less zealous way, is devoted to her collaborators. “Working with her is easy, especially because she has a lot of respect for other people’s efforts and is always ready to acknowledge the contribution of everyone to the project,” says de la Rosa. Pablo Miranda, a postdoc in Giraldez’s lab, agrees. “She always pushes you forward with enthusiasm and vitality,” he says. “She always has a word to cheer you up when things do not go well and the first to celebrate when things work.” Her exuberance for her work leads to a deep sense of fulfillment that comes with each success. “I love working in the lab doing experiments,” she says, especially “an experiment that works, even better if it proves that our hypothesis was right.
“I am still a very young scientist, in allsenses, with a small lab, so I need to continue working—hard,” Giraldez says. “I still have a lot to learn and a long path ahead.” But it’s a path she’s excited to explore. “We are getting closer to literally ‘watching’ the extended version of the ion channel movie,” she says. “I wish I could contribute to catch a couple of frames.” She will, by following her own advice: “Have fun in the lab and doing science, overcome the frustrations, keep the enthusiasm of the new ideas, and enjoy the satisfaction of a job well done.”
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