OU Attracts International Doctoral Scholar

OU Attracts International Doctoral Scholar
Gabriele Bigoni with Assistant Professor, Dr. Luis Villa-Diaz in a lab
Gabriele Bigoni (left) with Assistant Professor, Dr. Luis Villa-Diaz

Gabriele Bigoni is a Ph.D. candidate in Biochemistry Sciences, with a specialization in molecular biology from University National Autonomous of Mexico (UNAM)/National Institute of Cancerology (INCAN)-Mexico City, Mexico and a visiting doctoral research scholar in the Biological Sciences Department at Oakland University (OU). Since July 2017, when he came to OU, he has been collaborating with Assistant Professor, Dr. Luis Gerardo Villa-Diaz on research that involves stem cells of cervical cancer research, particularly looking the effects of CD49f protein as a cervical cancer stem cell marker.

During his four months at Oakland University, Gabriele Bigoni has had a great experience. He is most impressed by the physical resources that are available for graduate students, as well as the respect that students receive from their professors. It has felt like “being at home.”

Through his research, Dr. Villa-Diaz is attracting students to Oakland to support the institutions’ expanding research agenda. As a student-centered, doctoral research institution with a global perspective, Oakland University values the creation of knowledge and discovery. The expansive research interests of the faculty in the Department of Biological Sciences, provides ideal opportunities for students in OU’s graduate training programs―the Masters of Arts in Biology, Masters of Science in Biology and the Ph.D. in Biological and Biomedical Sciences.  These educational opportunities prepare students for research in private and government industries, professional careers in health sciences, and education.

Dr. Villa-Diaz first met Gabriele at a Keystone Symposia Conference on Stem Cells in Breckenridge, Colorado. Bigoni was a master’s student at UNAM and presented a poster on “The Effects of Molecular Iodine in Cervical Cancer Stem Cells.” Later, Dr. Villa-Diaz received an invitation to speak at UNAM in Mexico City, Mexico from an associated professor of Gabriele's mentor. In their brief meetings, Dr. Villa-Diaz and Gabriele learned of their shared research interests in the CD49f protein and the importance of this on cancer stem cells, and remained in touch. This year, Dr. Villa-Diaz invited Gabriele to Oakland University to collaborate on his CD49f research, in order to learn from one another.

Gabriele Bigoni has an interesting life prior to arriving at Oakland University. Born in Lovere, Italy, Gabriele was raised in various Latin American countries (Honduras, Panama, Colombia, El Salvador, and Guatemala) before his family finally settled in Ecuador. His interest in medicine and research―with a goal of becoming a researcher to help people―led him to pursue an undergraduate degree in Clinical Laboratory from University of Cuenca in Cuenca, Ecuador; which he received at the age of 29, after having to stop-out for several years due to limited financial resources.

During his master’s studies he faced several challenges. Graduate entrance exams at UNAM were extremely difficult and his undergraduate studies in clinical research had not prepared him well for the basic research that he was to perform in his graduate studies. He also faced periods of great difficulty because of his lack of knowledge in basic research. However, through hard work and perseverance, Gabriele quickly overcame this issue. He almost gave up his dream of becoming a researcher, but his mother―who always encouraged him―told him not to quit; “Show them that you are good.”  Bigoni sought a mentor in the Virus and Cancer Lab at the National Institute of Cancerology (INCAN)-Mexico City, Mexico, who helped him excel while a master’s student.

Now a PhD candidate at 34, Gabriele is very close to fulfilling his dream of becoming a researcher, which is being funded by Ecuador’s National Secretariat of Higher Education, Science, Technology and Innovation (SENESCYT), a highly competitive and prestigious full-tuition scholarship award.

Bigoni will return to UNAM later this month to continue work towards his PhD. However, once he completes his doctoral degree―in about a year-and-a-half―he hopes to return to OU as a post-doctoral fellow. We are looking forward to having him back on campus!