Meet Postdoc Sarah McCallum, PhD

Meet Our Postdocs is an occasional series featuring our postdoc students.

Cedars-Sinai postdoctoral scientist, Sarah McCallum, PhD

During her time at Cedars-Sinai, McCallum has developed and applied a gene-editing method that targets astrocytes within the spinal cords of injured mice. She is continuing to study mechanisms that aid astrocyte survival and how these mechanisms can be applied to new drugs and treatments for spinal cord injury.

Here, we learn more about some of McCallum’s greatest scientific achievements and challenges.

What inspired you to become a scientist?

It kind of happened by accident. When I was younger, I wanted to be a medic until my mom convinced me it wasn’t like how it was portrayed on TV. (I watched a lot of Grey's Anatomy-style medical dramas. They are still my guilty pleasure.)

I ended up choosing to study neuroscience at university since I liked science in school. But not knowing any scientists growing up, I didn’t know what a scientist was, or what they did, until I worked in the Vassilis Pachnis Lab at the Crick Institute for a year while getting my undergraduate degree.

It was during this time that I realized how exciting and rewarding science could be, and it inspired me to pursue a PhD.

What has been your greatest scientific achievement in your career so far?

My doctoral project was focused on investigating if glial cells had neural progenitor function in the enteric nervous system (the nervous system in the gut) of zebrafish. However, when I started this project, I was surprised that nobody had described or characterized zebrafish enteric glial cells.

When I started to try and characterize the glial cells, I couldn’t find them with any standard markers or transgenic lines. It took me over a year to find a marker of these glial cells (so over a year of negative data)! But now we can see them, and we can study them in a variety of contexts.

And most of that negative data became supplemental figure 1 of my PhD paper.

What has been your greatest challenge?

I’m dyslexic and had to go to special classes to learn how to read and write in school, so writing my doctoral thesis was daunting. It’s the only time I’ve ever thought about leaving science. I’m glad I didn’t.

In the future, what do you hope happens in your science career?

One day, I hope to have my own lab where I will continue to study glial cells. They are my favorite cell because your nervous system can’t develop, function or recover from an injury properly without them, yet we still know very little about how glial cells do this.

How do you want to change the world?

I think the only way you can change the world is by inspiring, educating or mentoring others. One person can only do so much, but if that person inspires 10 people that do 10 amazing things, and each of those people inspires 10 more, and so on, then that will change the world.