“…diversity breeds creativity, creativity gives rise to innovation, and innovation seeds major breakthroughs”.
Kat Hadjantonakis is a developmental biologist studying the cells in mammalian embryo at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Here, she works in her own lab to identify how cells regulate their identity and form the organs and tissues to replace damaged cells impacted by cancer. By using what is called the single cell analysis, Kat and her team have been able to read the genetic code for an individual cell to determine what genes that one cell turns on as opposed to looking at the genetic code from thousands of cells to determine what that group of cells can do. Using this single cell analysis, Kat and her team have found that some of the extraembryonic cells that were thought to shed off after a baby is born are in fact still present in adult mice gut. Kat intends to use this research about embryonic development to make advancements in the field of cancer. It has been noted that cancer cells revert to their more elementary state to continuously grow and take over their neighboring cells. As chair of the developmental biology department Dr. Hadjantonokis is a leader in her department while leading a productive research lab. Recently, her research was featured on the cover of Developmental Cell. Kat has worked to create an inclusive environment that her lab members appreciate and enjoy. This environment allows the members of Kat’s lab to be able to establish their own identity in the lab while also being able to stay true to themselves. Kat has found that her role as a scientific leader in her department and lab allows her to represent other LBGTQ scientists. In a news article, Kat stated that being a female LGBTQ scientist has not been problematic in her career. Kat knows that no matter how a person leads their day-to-day life, in the lab everyone is a scientist. No need for labels.
Dr. Hadjantonoakis describes during her career how she encountered other scientists who made inappropriate jokes in her presence. Unfortunately, Kat felt it was necessary to leave a lab environment that did not support her. Kat believes that a scientist should not have to choose between being a scientist and being true to who they really are. While Kat has encountered individuals who did not support her as a person, she knows that “it’s the science that matters most”. Now, as the chair of the developmental biology department at the Sloan Kettering Institute, Kat is setting an example for researchers of all ages that no matter who you are outside of the lab, everyone is valued for their scientific input inside the lab.
In her own lab, Kat support her motto that “…diversity breeds creativity, creativity gives rise to innovation, and innovation seeds major breakthroughs”. Kat knows that science culture has come a long way in expressing its acceptance towards all the individuals helping research advance to the next level. In the article, Kat highlights how far the scientific community has come over the past twenty-five years, telling a story about how she knew when she was in the United States that her sexual orientation would not be taken lightly to some of the research labs that she interviewed at for her postdoc fellowship. Now Kat continues to serve as an advocate for LGBTQ rights by serving on panels regarding LGBTQ individuals in science, sharing her story, research, and career with the scientific community. As a highly respected figure in molecular biology, Kat’s leadership and talent set an example to scientists to show them that no matter who you are or what you believe, at the end of the day, a scientist is a scientist.
Contributing BW student:
Alyssa Musat: Neuroscience major