Ana Castillo Orozco
Ana Castillo Orozco has had many opportunities to see the links between the immune system and diseases like cancer – and knew she needed to understand more to be effective in her career. She took HMX Immunology while working as a lecturer at Instituto Tecnologico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey and as a research assistant at the National Institute of Genomic Medicine in Mexico. She plans to pursue a PhD with a focus on cancer biology and cancer genetics.
Hear more about Ana’s journey toward a PhD in human genetics on the Learning Paths podcast.
What got you interested in HMX Immunology?
I used to work in a nonprofit organization to help children with cancer, and this organization was aimed to bring children for treatment, so there were children that were coming from very remote areas from Mexico to get treatment…I struggled a lot because I didn’t have an academic background for immunology. So sometimes it was difficult for me to grasp what was happening to the children because of that.
After that, I went to the United Kingdom, I did my master’s degree in genomic medicine at the University of Manchester. I had a course about cancer and I also struggled with the immunology bit. [This program] was a huge opportunity for me, because I could bring forth my knowledge and understand immunology. I want to have my research focus on cancer, and I know that there have been so many recent advances about the immune system, immunotherapy and so forth, so it was so important for me to learn immunology.
What aspects of the course did you find most helpful?
What I liked the most about the course was it was very well-structured. The videos were so outstanding in explanations from the professors, and also I like it very much that at the end of each module, you have a summary. It was very helpful. I think the most interesting part of the course was the disease linkage that you have after each module, where you have examples or you have doctors explaining, you have real patients, and I think it was really interesting because you could see how your knowledge is applied in a medical situation. Also what I found very helpful were the lesson notepads, where you can make summaries and remember details and you have diagrams to record your knowledge.
The disease linkage piece was so important because you could enhance your knowledge based on what you saw. It was so amazing how doctors chose patients that covered the whole concepts that you learned in class, and how they chose a particular patient that fit in the clinical scenario. Also it motivated me a lot because you saw – in the case of immunotherapy – patients with melanoma, and they showed how immunotherapy changed…life for the patient. It was a crucial part of the course because you are really observing that advances in medical science are really changing the quality of life of patients. They are showing how a real patient is going to benefit from these new treatments.
How challenging was the course for you?
In the final exam, I studied a lot…you have the opportunity to understand or make a summary of all the 10 weeks that the course lasts. I enjoyed it, but also I learned a lot because it was a really tough course. It was very important to me to learn, and with HMX I feel more confident about this topic.
Have you taken other online courses?
I have taken a lot of courses online…but this was a very different approach – you have the lesson notepads; you have quiz questions all the time; you have the disease linkage section, which I think is one of the most important; you have the animations which were outstanding. I was impressed by the animations because it was so easy to understand the topics. There was an example that they used when they wanted to describe the combination to develop antigens; it was a huge combination so they used an example of a girl using many different types of skirts and shirts, so it was excellent, because it was like, ‘oh, ok I get it.’. I thought that was one of the most interesting parts and most enjoyable, because you had all this material to learn.
Anything else you’d like to share?
I think one of the most important features of the course is that they make the course very interesting, so you really are motivated all the time. They provide you with a lot of examples, with animations…at the end of each module, you have the professors at the table and it seemed like they had some questions to answer, and it was beyond the course. Also we have topics about history, the professor who talked about the person who discovered the dendritic cell. They give you the state-of-the-art topics of immunology – they really teach you how to love the topic of the course in general.