February 15, 2022

Perspective: Filipa Lopes

Filipa Lopes joined Adaptimmune in 2020 and is Group Leader of the T-cell Cloning team based at our facility in Milton Park, in the UK. Here she shares why she chose science as her career.

What did you do before you joined Adaptimmune?

Before joining Adaptimmune, I worked at another biotech company, where I was part of the T-cell Cloning group helping to identify and isolate the TCRs that would hopefully become the basis of their medicines.

I studied at the University of Lisbon and have a PhD in Biomedical Sciences. During my time there, I studied the mechanisms used by herpes viruses to manipulate the host to establish latency. Two things I realized during the PhD was that I liked microscopy and the immunological synapse, so I moved to Manchester for a post-doc where I used advanced microscopy techniques to study the nano-scale organization of cell surface receptors at the immunological synapse.

It was after the post-doc that I decided I needed a career change. I was having difficulties in seeing the immediate application of my research to the real world, and I wanted my research to have a meaningful impact on people’s lives, so I decided to move to industry where I felt I could help making a difference.

Can you tell us about your current role at Adaptimmune and how it contributes to our mission of improving the lives of people with cancer?

Leading the T-cell Cloning group, I am continuing my quest for those all-important TCRs! Our mission is to identify and isolate T-cell Receptors that are potent and specific for the targets of interest so they can be affinity enhanced and engineered into T-cells, this way harnessing the body’s own immune system to target and destroy cancer. The work we do is a step to the collaborative effort of delivering transformative therapies to improve the lives of people with cancer.

Did you have a role model that influenced your decision to work in science and why did you choose to become a scientist?

Growing up I never thought about what I wanted to do in the future. I never knew what to answer when asked that question, but I think it was clear from a young age that I would do something related to science. My favourite play as a child was to mix anything I could get my hands on, usually from the kitchen, and see the results. I used to give it to my toys and wait to see what happened to them, with many ending up in the trash because they were irreversibly damaged!

A great inspiration at that time was not a scientist but my Mum! She never told me to stop making the mess (yes, it was a big mess!), but instead always fed my curiosity by sourcing new reagents that I could use in my experiments as she called them. In an unconscious way she was the role model that made me want to work in science.

In school I was best at biology, chemistry, anything science related really. So, I guess becoming a scientist was the natural outcome! Having my first glimpse of what it means to be a scientist when I spent time working at a research lab in Cambridge studying the herpesvirus infection, I realize I loved being in the lab. The excitement of waiting for the results and thinking what they were telling us, encouraged me to pursue a career in science.

Are there any positives or negatives to being a woman in science?

I have never really thought about the positives or negatives of being a woman in science. I have been fortunate to work in places where gender was not a determinant of success and where scientists were judged based on the merit of their research. In every place I have worked there have always been women in senior management roles, which never made me doubt that women have a place also in science.

However, that is not the case everywhere and there is still much more to be done to accomplish true gender equality in science. What can we, as women, do to help achieve that? Keep encouraging young girls to study science and supporting women researchers in balancing their scientific career with motherhood.

If you had the option to advise to a younger version of yourself, what would that be?

My advice to a younger version of myself or any young person is simple - do what you love and what makes you happy because if you do you will succeed, and life will never be boring!

Tell us more a bit more about you

Outside work I love traveling, that is one of my greatest passions. I have a never-ending list of places that I would like to visit! I also love watches - I have a collection of over 300 Swatch watches, although I have stopped collecting now, it is a very expensive hobby!

What is the funniest or most memorable thing that has happened to you while working in science?

Working in science has been a very rewarding experience. You never stop learning! It allowed me to live and work in 4 different countries - Portugal, England, Spain, and France, to learn different cultures and languages, and to meet many different people.