Playing the long game

Team at Universidad de la República, Uruguay

A breakthrough discovery in the potential treatment of parasitic worms. Diagnostic services for a global pandemic. Eight years and counting of quality hands-on education.

When the Department of Biological Sciences at the Universidad de la República in Montevideo, Uruguay, received an Instrumental Access award in 2014, none of these outcomes were foreseeable, let alone probable.

Yet Gustavo Salinas, PhD, and his colleagues can look back at these years and feel the difference they have made. For themselves. For Uruguay. And for the scientific study of a parasite that infects nearly a quarter of the world’s population each year.

In science, breakthroughs and successes are announced with fanfare, seemingly arising as fully formed conclusions. But for every article or newsworthy discovery, there are years of meticulous planning and research that go unheralded outside the lab. Dr. Salinas understands his department’s progress for what it is—scientific advancement through patience and persistence.

An investment in the future

Dr. Salinas trained at the University of Cambridge and had already received a prestigious postdoctoral fellowship when he returned to his home country of Uruguay. He knew at the time that this decision meant leaving some of the world’s best-funded labs for those that lacked many necessary instruments, but he was committed to coming home.

When his department applied for and received an Instrumental Access award in 2013, Dr. Salinas said he wanted to quickly update the instruments so the students and faculty could make progress in their research. What he found was support for their work on a much broader scale.

“The Instrumental Access award was great because there was so much support for the lab as a whole. We had a lot of needs but not much to help us acquire it,” he says. “When the shipment arrived, there were so many pieces. And they have been very useful.”

Treating parasitic infections

Since receiving the Instrumental Access shipment, Dr. Salinas has honed his focus on a global public health concern: soil-transmitted helminths (STH).

These parasitic worms—which include roundworms, hookworms, and whipworms—infect nearly 1.5 billion people each year. Untreated, they can cause malnutrition and impair development, especially in young children.

Part of the reason these parasites are so successful is that they can survive without oxygen for long periods. But it is only very recently that scientists have begun to understand how they do this.

Although anaerobic respiration is not unique to STH, the method by which they transport electrons—and therefore harvest energy—is something altogether different, as Dr. Salinas and collaborators have demonstrated.

These particular worms have an alternative electron transport chain. Just as in human cells, STH create energy using a lipid called ubiquinone (UQ). In anaerobic respiration, however, STH switch to an alternative called rhodoquinone (RQ), which scientists initially believed was derived from UQ.

Dr. Salinas and his colleagues discovered that this assumption was not correct. Rather, they identified that the switch to RQ happens because of a gene splice variant, specifically of the coq-2 gene.

Conference with Dr. Gustavo Salinas
Dr. Salinas presenting his research on STH in 2019

Humbly, Dr. Salinas says that their findings so far are “modest,” but the potential impact of their discovery is truly exceptional.

By understanding the precise mechanism for how STH are able to harvest energy while living in the human body, scientists may be closer to unlocking the most effective treatment against the parasite-host relationship.

Preventing the disease, he says, is a matter of education and hygiene, but treatment is different. Treating a parasitic infection caused by STH could pivot when knowing the exact ways in which they thrive. It might mean knowing which electron transport mechanisms to target so they can find the most effective way to stop them from creating energy while in a host.

Long-term success

While this breakthrough is one of the most significant to come from República, Dr. Salinas recognizes the immeasurable benefits that have resulted from having greater access to scientific equipment.

Everything—from consumables and glassware to centrifuges—has been fundamental in establishing the department’s status as a reliable and impactful center for research and education.

In the initial wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, the department was poised to offer diagnostic services to Uruguay’s Ministry of Health. Whereas many labs were not equipped to handle the rigorous testing that was necessary to keep pace with the virus’s spread, scientists in the Department of Biological Sciences had the tools and the talent to meet the need.

Meanwhile, the department has steadily offered both basic and advanced courses that allow students to work with the Instrumental Access equipment, gaining valuable experience with the kinds of instruments that are cornerstones of STEM careers.

“Science and technology are developing at an amazing speed,” he says. “And somehow 7 years later, I would say that the equipment still has a huge impact on a daily basis. When you have the equipment you need and you use it every day, you take it for granted. We still do not take it for granted.”

Gustavo Salinas
"Seven years later, the equipment still has a huge impact on a daily basis. When you ahve the equipment you need and you use it every day, you take it for granted. We still do not take it for granted."

Gustavo Salinas, PhD
Faculty of Chemistry
Universidad de la República

Science for the public good

Each year in Uruguay there is a national day celebrating science. The doors at República open to the public so everyone can see how experiments are done in the lab. People can examine specimens or ask questions to some of the leading experts in their fields. In short, it is a day to celebrate Uruguay’s scientific achievements.

It is a testament to Dr. Salinas’ perseverance that research on STH has advanced so far. It is no exaggeration to say that what he and his collaborators have uncovered is a big step forward in treating these parasites that infect so many.

Yet he would be the first to tell you that having the right equipment opened many more doors for his department at República. With instruments in place, they can demonstrate the power of science to so many more people.

During the national day of science, people from all walks of life come to the lab at República. They look through the lenses of microscopes. They witness experiments designed to improve life for everyone. The faculty in attendance are no less brilliant than they were a decade ago; they have simply used the right tools and followed where that brilliance led them.

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Paul Hohenberger

Paul Hohenberger

Director of Individual Giving

Paul is responsible for individual outreach to increase philanthropic support for Seeding Labs. He is an experienced fundraising professional with broad knowledge and understanding of resource development and advancement in major research universities and public trusts. 

In previous roles at The University of Massachusetts, MIT, Harvard University, and the Pew Charitable Trusts, Paul cultivated relationships within the philanthropic community, garnering support for programs and priorities spanning nuclear engineering, global health, climate science/energy, and demographic and survey research.

Paul’s educational background includes a bachelor’s degree in political science and history from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He is active in his alma mater, serving on the Department of Political Science Advisory Board, and was a former board member of the UMass Alumni Association. 

Additionally, he has completed professional certificate programs at the T.H. Chan Harvard School of Public Health and MIT, enhancing his expertise in policy, politics, and innovation.

Alyssa Tran headshot

Alyssa Tran
Logistics Intern

Alyssa Tran started working for Seeding Labs in Summer 2024 in the Instrumental Access Program. She is pursuing her Bachelor’s degree in Biology at Clark University (Class of 2026).

Being a Biology major has allowed her to develop skills within research labs and understand various types of laboratory equipment, which gives support to the program.

Jennifer Raymond

Jennifer Raymond
Director of Corporate Relations

Jennifer builds and stewards Seeding Labs’ partnerships with corporations and other life science institutions. Our partners’ financial and lab equipment contributions help support universities and research institutions in under-resourced settings.

When these talented scientists, researchers, and educators have the resources they need to create and maintain strong scientific institutions, new solutions are created for both local development needs and global challenges.

Before joining Seeding Labs, Jennifer raised funds and engaged constituents for

the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and Brandeis University. She graduated from Wellesley College with a BA in French studies.

Manisha Patel

Manisha Patel
Scientific Director

Manisha uses her scientific expertise to implement the equipment-related aspects of Seeding Labs’ programs and plays a key role in Instrumental Access.

She provides support to Instrumental Access awardees, helping them choose the instruments that best meet their research and teaching goals. She also advises the Corporate Relations team on equipment that would be useful in our awardees’ labs.

Manisha has extensive experience in managing academic research labs with knowledge spanning lab setup, compliance, and equipment training. Most recently, she oversaw labs at Harvard University.

For the past decade, Manisha directed an undergraduate internship program focused on one of her passions:  diversity and inclusion in STEM. She holds a BS in ecology from Rutgers University and an MS in ecology from the University of Vermont.

Micaela Leaska

Micalea Leaska
Programs Specialist,
Metrics & Evaluation

Micalea works with the Programs team to develop and implement metrics and evaluation tools, and to monitor the worldwide impact of Instrumental Access. She compiles and analyzes quantitative data and qualitative stories that exemplify our mantra, “talent is everywhere.”

Her prior work experience includes consulting for the World Bank, working on Water Security Assessments for Peru and Central America, and improving access to safe water in rural Ecuadorian communities with the nonprofit WaterStep.

Micalea holds a BA from Saint Michael’s College and completed her Master’s degree in Climate Change and Global Sustainability from SIT Graduate Institute, where she studied global science issues alongside scientists, stakeholders, and community members in Iceland, Tanzania, and Ecuador.

Chiudo Ehirim

Chiudo Ehirim
Instrumental Access

After completing an Atlas Corps Fellowship with Seeding Labs, Chiudo now provides support to our Instrumental Access partners from his Rumines Ltd. office in Lagos, Nigeria. Chiudo is CEO of Rumines, an environmental technology and management consulting company.

Prior to his fellowship, Chiudo was a country manager for Nigeria with Climate Scorecard, a US-based organization that monitors how the top 25 greenhouse gas-emitting countries implement the Paris Agreement on climate change.

Chiudo earned a BS in pure and industrial chemistry from the University of Nigeria and a Master’s of Science in environmental technology and management from the University of Port Harcourt in Nigeria.

David Borman

David Borman, PhD

David works to highlight the innovation and scientific successes of Instrumental Access awardees. In telling these scientists’ stories, he helps to show the global impact of the Seeding Labs mission.

Prior to joining Seeding Labs, David worked as the alumni affairs director for Brevard College in North Carolina and managed communications for Kids Center for Pediatric Therapies, a nonprofit in Louisville, Kentucky, that provides services to children with special needs.

David earned his PhD in English from the University of Miami. He holds an MA in English from the University of Louisville and a BA in English from Bellarmine University.

Christine Srivastava

Christina Viola Srivastava

Vice President of Programs

Christina is responsible for program development, planning, and implementation at Seeding Labs. 

Christina has experience as a research program evaluator and science policy analyst. She’s held roles with the consulting firm Abt Associates, Inc. and the Science and Technology Policy Institute.

Prior to entering the consulting world, Christina worked for the Boston-area nonprofits Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics and Urban Ecology Institute. She holds an undergraduate degree in biology from Swarthmore College

Rick Sherman

Rick Sherman

Vice President of Philanthropy

Rick is responsible for the fundraising activities at Seeding Labs, engaging with corporations, foundations, and individuals to increase their financial and equipment donations to the organization.

Prior to joining Seeding Labs, Rick spent 17 years working in a similar capacity at a number of science-focused organizations, including Keystone Symposia, the Carnegie Institution for Science, and the Chemical Heritage Foundation (now the Science History Institute).

Rick earned an MS in Finance from Drexel University, and a BS in Paper Science and Engineering from State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry.

David Qualter

Vice President of Operations

David is responsible for global logistics at Seeding Labs, overseeing the efficient movement of lab equipment worldwide.

He joined Seeding Labs from Image Arts, a subsidiary of Hallmark Cards, where he provided logistics direction for the company with $110 million in annual sales.

He brings 20 years of supply chain management experience with in-depth knowledge of international logistics, warehouse execution, and distribution center operations.

Originally an art student at Southeastern Massachusetts University, David now uses his creative talents to develop logistics strategies that produce operational efficiencies and quality customer service.

Melissa P. Wu, PhD

Melissa P. Wu, PhD

Chief Executive Officer

Please direct speaking requests to

Melissa is the CEO and a co-founder of Seeding Labs. She began as a volunteer leader of the Harvard Medical School student group; later, as a founding board member, she supported its transition to a nonprofit organization. In 2014, she joined the staff of Seeding Labs, leading the USAID-sponsored $3M scale-up of the Instrumental Access program. In 2019, Melissa became CEO, committed to increasing capacity for developing countries to use science. 

Operating with a deep belief in the power of science to transform lives, Melissa has dedicated her career to creating scientific research opportunities for historically underrepresented and excluded communities. In addition to roles at Harvard and the BioBuilder Educational Foundation, Melissa has mentored many students in the sciences through programs at the Journal of Emerging Investigators, Harvard University, Boston Children’s Hospital, and MIT.

Melissa earned a PhD in Cellular and Developmental Biology from Harvard University and holds an SB in Biology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.