Five Questions With Neurobiologist Nathasia Muwanigwa

Name: Nathasia Mudiwa Muwanigwa
Job: Neurobiology PhD Researcher and STEM Advocate
Country: Zimbabwe, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Cyprus
Age: 26

Nathasia Muwanigwa is currently pursuing a PhD in neurobiology at the University of Luxembourg. Her research focuses on stem cell based modeling of Parkinson’s disease at the Luxembourg Center for Systems Biomedicine. Nathasia has a Bachelors in Human Biology, summa cum laude, from the University of Nicosia (Cyprus) and a Research Master’s in Molecular Mechanisms of Disease from Radboud University (Netherlands). She is an early career panelist for Neuro Central, an online hub that delivers high quality content uniting neurology and neuroscience. Nathasia is a dedicated advocate for underrepresented individuals in STEM, particularly Africans in STEM who lack visibility on the global STEM landscape. She is a Co-Founder and Director of Visibility STEM Africa, an initiative changing the narrative surrounding African contributions to STEM. As a result of her advocacy, she was profiled in Forbes Science. Find her on Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Facebook

On her research about Parkinson’s disease:

“My research focuses on Parkinson’s disease (PD), the second most common neurodegenerative disorder globally. PD is characterized by the loss of a specific type of brain cell (dopaminergic neurons) from the midbrain. Symptomatically, PD patients present with tremor, muscle rigidity and slow movement amongst other symptoms. For my research, I make use of stem cell derived “minibrains” (aka organoids) that mimic human brain development. The aim of my research is to use these minibrains to model the changes that occur in the brain during the progression of PD in order to discover new molecular pathways that can be targeted for therapeutic interventions and drug discovery.”

On whether people with Parkinson’s can have good quality of life:

“One of the most challenging aspects of Parkinson’s is it is a progressive disorder, meaning symptoms worsen over time. This can make maintaining a good quality of life challenging as the condition progresses. Some PD patients are responsive to drugs that slow the progression of the disease, but for many, these drugs may not have any effect. There are lifestyle changes that PD patients can make that can prolong their mobility. Regular exercise at early diagnosis is important in maintaining mobility and balance. Maintaining a healthy diet and staying hydrated can be helpful particularly in avoiding some of the gastrointestinal issues associated with PD. There is substantial research going into improving early detection of PD and researchers are exploring various therapies, which will help in slowing down the progression of the disease.”

On how Zimbabwe treats older adults:

Generally, in my experience, Zimbabweans hold family to high importance. Family is at the backbone of Zimbabwean culture. When family members get older, it is quite common that they may move in with their adult children. Otherwise, in some cases people will hire caregivers for their parents when they are unable to care for themselves. However, given the current economic challenges in the country, much of the older population is not receiving sufficient medical care and support, despite their family’s efforts. Limited resources and a poor healthcare system has rendered the older populations quite vulnerable.

On her thoughts about aging gracefully versus cosmetic treatments:

“To me aging gracefully is entering your older years with confidence. How you achieve that is entirely up to an individual. I think there is nothing wrong with getting cosmetic treatments if that is what you want and it makes you feel good. I am a big believer in people having autonomy over their own bodies and making informed decisions that suit them. I think what is most important is having a good understanding of what the cosmetic treatments do and have realistic expectations. There are steps people can take to “age gracefully” without cosmetic procedures too. For example, starting a good skincare routine in your 20’s and 30’s is beneficial for healthy skin as well as eating well, exercising and self-care.”

On her future goals:

I definitely want to continue in science, although time will tell whether I will remain in academia or pursue other avenues, such as science communication. I am excited about the future of Visibility STEM Africa (VSA). The initiative aims to give visibility to Africans in STEM both on the continent and in the diaspora in order to provide visible role models for young Africans interested in pursuing STEM careers. To learn more, follow VSA on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn! I also serve on a board of directors the Biotech Institute (Zimbabwe), a private hybrid academic-biotechnology research institution that focuses on both basic and translational research in the areas of biomedicine and agriculture.

Aging gracefully is entering your older years with confidence. How you achieve that is entirely up to an individual.

Nathasia Mudiwa Muwanigwa, MSc, PhD Candidate

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