Visitor of the Week: Nunya Chotiwan

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Meet Nunya Chotiwan of the Umeå University (Sweden) and Molecular Infection Medicine Sweden. The Thai national is a MIMS Excellence by Choice Programme postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Anna Överby’s lab and is at CSHL participating in Blood Brain Barrier. At her inaugural CSHL meeting, Nunya presented a poster titled “Visualizing Invasion and Spread of Neurotropic Tick-borne Flavivirus in Brain by Whole Tissue Ex Vivo Imaging” and though this was “not [her] first time for a poster presentation…it [was her] first time presenting in a neuroscience conference.” The virology-trained scientist “just started working with brains 5 months ago” learned a lot from the meeting and received great feedback and tools to use towards her work.

What are your research interests? What are you working on?
My work focuses on tick-borne flaviviruses. These viruses are in the same family as the West Nile and Zika viruses but are transmitted by tick instead of mosquitoes. These viruses can cause encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), but we do not know how they enter and spread in the brain.  I am interested in using imaging techniques to capture the entry and spread of these viruses in the mouse brain.

How did you decide to make this the focus of your research?
Flavivirus is near and dear to my heart. I have studied it for several years. When I started my postdoc, I wanted to get out of my comfort zone and study this virus from other perspectives. I am always interested in brain and felt like it is very challenging to study. Since several flaviviruses cause encephalitis and there are a lot of unanswered questions in this research area, I picked this topic for my postdoc research. 

How did your scientific journey begin?
I grew up watching a lot of disaster movies, like Deep Impact, Armageddon and Outbreak. In these movies, the real heroes who saved humanity, to me, were the scientists. When I am exposed to science, either in class or in my research, I am always amazed by the complexity of the biology. I always feel excited to design experiments to solve scientific problems. This positive energy is what drives me to continue on this road. 

Was there something specific about the Blood Brain Barrier meeting that drew you to attend?
I am new to this field, I am looking for the conference where I can learn from the experts and get a feedback from my poster. My research interest is about the viral invasion into the brain, which needs to cross some types of brain barrier in order to get to the brain. This meeting is perfect for me.

What is your key takeaway from the meeting?
I always thought blood brain barrier (BBB) is a ‘wall’ that protects the brain, but this meeting gave me an appreciation that BBB is very tightly regulated and dynamic. I am also glad to learn that what I am interested in, choroid plexus, is still understudied. There are a lot of unknown areas that I can study about.

What did you pick up or learn from the meeting that you plan to apply to your work?
My goal for this conference was to find out cell specific markers to identify cell types that are infected with virus and tools to study choroid plexus. Through talks and posters, I have acquired tools, techniques and collaboration that can help me with my project.

If someone curious in attending a future iteration of this meeting asked you for feedback or advice on it, what would you tell him/her?
The quality of science at this meeting is at a high level. Experts in the field did share new findings and even their most recent unpublished data. For those familiar to the filed, you will learn the most current findings, and for those new to the field, you will still learn several exciting information and see where the field is heading.

Blood Brain Barrier is your first meeting at CSHL—what did you think of it?
I imagined that it would be a focused but relaxed meeting with a relatively small number of participants, which enhanced the interaction and networking between the participants. I also imagined that the lab is located in an urbanized area with a lot of buildings. But now that I am here, the meeting is very engaged and there are a lot of networking opportunities. The talks and presentations are very interesting but dense, so my brain is quite overwhelmed with these interesting presentations. The campus, on the other hand, is very beautiful, close to nature and very relaxing. (I am a little jealous of the scientists who work here.)

Thank you to Nunya for being this week's featured visitor. To meet other featured scientists - and discover the wide range of science that takes part in a CSHL meeting or course - go here.