Ujang Purnama

Ujang Purnama squarejpg

Hometown
Jakarta, Indonesia

Current Residence
Oxford, UK

Graduate Degree
Physiology, Anatomy, and Genetics

Current Position
PhD candidate, Department of Physiology, Anatomy, and Genetics, University of Oxford

What is the current focus of your research, and what do you find most rewarding about your work?

I am investigating the effect of diabetes on the human heart using engineered heart tissue from human induced pluripotent stem cell-derived cardiomyocytes. When I first joined Carolyn Carr’s lab, I started my project studying the maturation of cardiomyocytes by combining engineered heart tissue and a combination of nutrients to mimic what the cells experience in the heart. We have shown that this induces a metabolic profile more like that of an adult human heart cell and are exploring different disease models in this system. I use this model to study how changes in cell media that mimics diabetic conditions, such as hyperglycemia, hyperlipidemia, and hyperinsulinemia, can be used to model the diabetic heart. We then use this model for drug screening. 

The most rewarding part of my work is that the subject matter is really interesting, and the research has the potential to improve millions of lives. 

What led you to become a scientist and to stem cell research?

Growing up I always wanted to be an ambassador for Indonesia, until I met my chemistry teacher during my one-year high school exchange program in Alaska, USA. My quiz scores were always the lowest in the class because of the language barrier. My teacher gave me extra hours after the class to teach me privately. One day, we were studying organic chemistry and I became fascinated by it. Her support and my enthusiasm meant I ended up achieving the highest score in the class. This inspired me to study pharmacy, which led to many fantastic opportunities such as internships in companies and research institutions.

During my undergraduate study, I was selected for a 3 month internship in Japan to work on toxicity testing using cardiomyocytes and neuronal cells derived from embryonic stem cells. I learned many techniques and decided to focus on stem cell research. Upon completing my bachelor’s degree, I was invited to perform research at University Medical Centre Groningen to study the effect of engineered interferon alpha on vascular smooth muscle cells.

These experiences led me to contact Prof. Carolyn Carr in Oxford as the group focuses on stem cell research.

What is the most exciting aspect of your work?

I believe that success does not come easily. The most exciting aspect of my work is when, after countless trials and experiments on the bench, I finally find evidence or proof for my hypothesis.

What guidance would you share in talking with trainees interested in pursuing your area of research?

I would suggest younger trainees get scientific research exposure on several labs or research institutes for internships.

Do you have any mentors or individuals who have inspired you in your stem cell work?

Prof. Yamanaka, for his incredible discovery of hiPSC. He inspired me to work with stem cells. Although I only met him in person once, his work will always inspire me to contribute more in the field. My supervisors in Oxford have also inspired me, especially on the application of stem cells for disease modelling and drug testing.

How do you spend your free time?

I love hiking in the mountains and highlands in Indonesia and the UK and would love to hike mountains across the world. I often go hiking and cycling on the weekend or whenever I have time. I also like racquet sports a lot. 

I also like traveling. I love to see places that have a historical value or where famous food originated from.

What is something your peers would be surprised to learn about you?

I was an MC and singer for weddings when I was in high school. My friends would ask me to be the wedding singer and I even got paid for it.

What do you most value about your membership with the ISSCR?

What I value most about being an ISSCR member is the annual meeting. I really like interacting and having conversations with people in the stem cell community to discuss my work. The questions and feedback I got from the poster session and subsequent conversations were very stimulating and helped to shape the future direction of my research. 

Furthermore, the networking opportunity is priceless, especially for young investigators and trainees. The chance to interact with journal editors, industry professionals, and world-renowned stem cell leaders in scientific and social settings at the Annual Meeting is one of the many other benefits of membership. 

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