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PhD candidate studies red blood cells; strives to increase diversity in STEM

Daniel Hidalgo is co-founder of the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science at UMass Chan

PhD candidate Daniel Hidalgo is a research scientist, a champion for diverse voices and cultural education, and a father of two. He’s a student in the Morningside Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at UMass Chan’s Cancer Biology Program and works closely with students across campus as the president and co-founding member of the Medical School’s chapter of the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS).

SACNAS is dedicated to fostering the success of diverse scientists as they attain advanced degrees, careers, and leadership positions in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines. The UMass Chan chapter is active in its mission, holding workshops and seminars on topics such as implicit bias and imposter syndrome.

In 2019, the group worked with the T.H. Chan School of Medicine to develop a student-led optional enrichment elective called Medical Spanish. Spanish-speaking faculty from various Latin American countries, including Venezuela and Colombia, teach medical terminology, while biomedical science students act as standardized patients, giving medical students time to practice conversations with people from Latin American countries. Hidalgo is a creator of the course and one of the instructors.

“There are many ways to refer to the same body part or describe the pain a patient feels, so we really wanted to present a cultural understanding to our medical trainees and introduce them to these slang words, so when they actually go out to the real community and they are presented with these slang words, they’re able to know what they mean,” Hidalgo said.

Last spring, Hidalgo was recognized for his work with the Student Community Service Leadership Award and the Outstanding Student Mentor in the Classroom or Research Setting Award at the Morningside Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences annual recognition ceremony. 

Hidalgo was born in Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz, a port city in Mexico, and grew up in Guatemala City. He came to Worcester in 2004 to attend Clark University. After earning a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and molecular biology and a master’s in biology, Hidalgo began working as a research associate in the lab of Merav Socolovsky, MD, PhD, professor of molecular, cell & cancer biology. Seven years later, Hidalgo enrolled in the Cancer Biology Program, with Dr. Socolovsky as his mentor.

“During my years working in the lab, I fell in love with doing research and asking, ‘What's the next question?’ To me, it was a no brainer to stay here at UMass Chan, because I realized at UMass there is a great collaborative spirit that highlights wonderful scientists all coming together to answer these very complex scientific questions,” Hidalgo said.

Hidalgo studies how blood stem cells divide and differentiate to become red blood cells.

"We discovered unique aspects of the gene program that regulates cell division in red cell progenitors, which impact how red cell genes are expressed. We also discovered new hormones that accelerate red blood cell formation,” Hidalgo said. “Our work has implications for improving the treatment of the many types of anemia for which there is currently no easy treatment or cure, such as sickle cell anemia and anemia associated with cancer."

Hidalgo looks forward to going into private industry after he completes his PhD work. He and his wife have two children, Camila and Valentina.

The Student Spotlight series features UMass Chan Medical School students in the
Morningside Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, Tan Chingfen Graduate School of Nursing and T.H. Chan School of Medicine. For more information about UMass Chan Medical School and how to apply, visit the Prospective Students page.

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