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Lab Chat With Dr. Sylvia Suadicani

Lab Chat With Dr. Sylvia Suadicani

By Gary Goldenberg
Sylvia Suadicani, Ph.D., studies the underlying causes of bladder problems and of chronic pelvic pain. A native of Brazil, Dr. Suadicani came to Einstein in 1997, where she is now an associate professor of urology and of molecular pharmacology and an assistant professor in the Dominick P. Purpura Department of Neuroscience.
Sylvia Suadicani, Ph.D. (Photo by Jason Torres)

Was biology your first career choice?

As a kid, I loved animals and was a big fan of the oceanographer Jacques Cousteau, and I eventually decided to study biology. I love discovery—the challenge of coming up with hypotheses and solving problems.

You originally came to Einstein to do a postdoc under David Spray [Ph.D.]. What did you learn from this experience?

The importance of collaboration. David introduced me to researchers around Einstein and all over the world. I try to continue that spirit in my own lab. My door is always open.

Any advice for young scientists coming from abroad?

Have an open mind. Try everything, like at a buffet. Accept critiques. And don’t be afraid that you don’t know English very well. Einstein is like the United Nations, with people from all over the world. That’s the beauty of the place. 

How did you get interested in bladder dysfunction?

From working with David on cell signaling, I became intrigued by the bladder’s urothelium—its inner lining. The urothelium’s main function was generally thought to be protecting the bladder, but it also functions as a sensor and signals the nervous system when the bladder is full and you need to empty it. Those signals can get disrupted in conditions such as diabetes and spinal cord injury, causing serious quality-of-life problems.

One of your National Institutes of Health grants creates a nano- technology resource center. What’s its purpose?

Bladder disease is typically treated with oral drugs, which must enter the bloodstream before getting to the bladder—an inefficient delivery mode that also causes side effects. I’m working with Kelvin Davies [Ph.D.] and Joel Friedman [M.D., Ph.D.] to develop drug-carrying nanoparticles that can be delivered directly into the bladder using a urethral catheter. We’ve begun tests in rodent models of interstitial cystitis and bladder overactivity related to menopause.

What has been your pandemic experience?

It has been stressful, especially having family in Brazil. Fortunately, everyone is safe, but I’ve been unable to visit. When I’ve worked from home, I’ve tried to keep everyone in my lab motivated and as active as possible, whether analyzing data or participating in journal clubs.

What have you missed the most?

Hugging people. I’m Brazilian. We’re very social. It has just been me and my rescue bird at home.

Rescue bird?

On my way to work a few years ago, I noticed a tiny baby bird that had fallen from its nest onto the ground. I took it to the lab and we figured out what to feed it. It grew up to be a sparrow. It imprinted on me, so it can’t be released back to the wild.

What hobbies do you have?

Weather permitting, I walk from my apartment  near Pelham Bay Park to Einstein. It’s great for thinking and overcoming writer’s block.

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