#WhyIScience Q&A: A process development lead returns to her research roots

Isabella Teixeira-Soldano reflects on her time as a technician in Broad’s COVID-19 testing lab and how that led to a position doing single-cell research.

Portrait of Isabella Teixeira-Soldano
Credit: Allison Dougherty, Broad Communications
Isabella Teixeira-Soldano studies single cells to better understand disease progression.

Isabella Teixeira-Soldano began her career in science sifting through mud. She had joined Néva Meyer’s lab at Clark University as an undergraduate student research assistant because she was interested in learning more about development. The lab focused on neuronal development of annelids, or saltwater worms, and she was tasked with acclimating the worms to the lab from their natural environment — the mud. 

At first, Teixeira-Soldano was reluctant to handle the slimy creatures, but once she saw under the microscope how annelids started from single cells and developed into larvae, then adults, Teixeira-Soldano was hooked. She realized the importance of her role in keeping the worms healthy, so she could later study their gene expression and behavior in response to different drug treatments.

After graduating, Teixeira-Soldano discovered new definitions of development that intrigued her. In the summer of 2020, she joined the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard as one of the first accessioning technicians in the COVID-19 diagnostic lab in the Broad’s Genomics Platform. She worked long shifts to help quickly deliver test results, while watching Broad engineers develop faster, more automated ways to process more COVID tests. Within a few months, she transitioned into a role as a process development associate and later a process development lead within the Klarman Cell Observatory (KCO) at Broad, which studies single cells to better understand disease progression and potential targets for treatments.  

Today, Teixeira-Soldano works on developing efficient processes to analyze large numbers of tissue samples at the single-cell level. In this #WhyIScience, she talks about her role as a COVID-19 lab technician, how she transitioned into a process development role, and how her definition of development has changed throughout her career.


What inspired you to do research as an undergrad?

When I went to school, I was set on becoming a doctor. I majored in biology and minored in chemistry, but the classes were challenging and I had a conversation with my pre-med advisor, David Thurlow, that I’ll never forget. 

I told him I was struggling with my classes and that I didn’t think I'd make it to medical school. And if I did, I wouldn’t be happy. Then he asked, “Well, why do you want to be a doctor?” and I responded with, “Because I want to help people.” Then he said, “You don’t have to be a doctor to help people. There are so many ways you can do that!”  Before that conversation, I had never considered doing research and he gave me the extra push to try it out.

During my junior year of undergrad, I found a lab at my school that studied neuronal development in annelids, which are saltwater worms. I fell in love with the research and forgot all about medical school.

What did you do as a COVID-19 accessioning technician? 

I’d work 12-hour shifts to ensure the COVID-19 samples we received were in good condition before the testing process. Then, I started working in shipping and handling, where I was responsible for shipping testing kits to schools, hospitals, and other places. From there, I started working on the science side of things — adding lysis buffer to deactivate the virus, extracting the virus from the sample, and then moving it to a qPCR machine to get a positive or negative result.

What surprised you about working as a COVID-19 technician at the Broad? 

I had just graduated and I never thought I’d be able to help anyone during the pandemic — that was unexpected and rewarding. 

I was also surprised that my coworkers had such different backgrounds. I was expecting everyone to be recent college graduates, but many were in the midst of career transitions and hoping to break into the sciences. After many 12-hour shifts, we really got to know each other, and we all worked really well together. We still keep in contact, and many have transitioned to being full-time employees in different labs at the Broad.

How did you transition to your current role and what do you do?

As a COVID-19 technician, I was working under contract, but I wanted something that had more structure, like a 9-to-5 job, so I applied to a position at the KCO as a process development associate. During the interview, I realized their work with single-cell technology was similar to my undergraduate research, which I loved, and I got really excited in the interview.

A few months after being hired, I was promoted to Process Development Lead and now my position helps implement single-cell technology in projects related to inflammatory disease. We are studying biopsied tissue from patients with colorectal cancer, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and other inflammatory diseases to see which genes are elevated or lowered. Our hope is that studying changes in gene expression will lead to a better understanding of the progression of these diseases and better ways of treating them.

What does development mean to you? Has that changed?

At first, I saw development as how cells communicate to divide and build a living thing. When I got into development of automation at the Genomics Platform, it came to mean how machines and people communicate with each other to work together. Now, I think development is a mixture of both definitions because I use technological processes to learn about how cells communicate to either cause a disease.

What inspires you to keep working in your field?

One of the reasons I like development is because I can see it. One of my favorite things is looking under the microscope to see cells. Similarly, I had a hard time understanding the computational side of things at first, but as I've learned more, I can see how the process I worked on helped obtain necessary data. Seeing the final result of something I've helped develop is really cool.

I love working on medical samples that are provided by patients because it motivates me to find them an answer or even a potential treatment. Advancing technologies have created many ways to target diseases. Yet there’s still room to improve that process. And I bet in 10 years, there’s going to be a better way to do science and I’ve loved playing a little part in that.