|Name: Phylis Hétié
Date of Birth: 1979-05-24
Place of birth: Moussodougou, Burkina Faso (West Africa)
Degree: PhD in Biochemistry, Cellular and Molecular Biology from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, 2013
Current position: Postdoctoral research fellow at Harvard University
Latest publication: Hétié P, de Cuevas M, Matunis E (2014). Conversion of quiescent niche cells to somatic stem cells causes ectopic niche formation in the Drosophila testis. Cell Reports, Volume 7, Issue 3, pp 715 - 721.
Phylis Hétié, a native of Burkina Faso, came to the United States several years ago to study biology. She completed her PhD at Johns Hopkins University in 2013. Her research results were published a few weeks ago in the prestigious peer-reviewed journal Cell Reports and even attracted some media attention, as can be seen here, here, here and here. Phylis kindly accepted to answer our questions and to inaugurate our series of interviews with Raelian scientists.
Scientific Raelian: Thanks for accepting to do this interview and congratulations for your publication! How do you feel about your research being in the news?
Phylis Hetie: Really excited! Research in general, and more particularly in biology is a very long and laborious process. It takes years to go from an idea, hypothesis, experiments to finally get to results that can tell a story. Additionally, the publication process can also be very long. So to finally get your research pass the peer-reviewing process, published in a good journal and have it in the news for scientists and non-scientists alike to see, is greatly fulfilling. It's like getting to the conclusion of a chapter; one that you wrote. It is your contribution to science, to collective knowledge. Your work may be a building block for something bigger in the future, something that could contribute to make lives healthier and better.
SR: How would you explain your latest article to a non-scientific audience?
PH: Using genetic techniques, I was able to convert non-stem cells (somatic cells) into a specific type of stem cells in a living tissue after I purposefully depleted the tissue of the latter. Even more interestingly, these non-stem cells are cells that were supposed to only provide signals and physical support for the stem cells, but not turn into stem cells themselves. In addition to replacing the lost stem cells, these support cells proliferated to make more of themselves and form more support locations or niches in the tissue to provide even more support space for the new stem cells.
SR: What is the significance and what are the possible applications?
PH: The implications of such a finding are great. If we can control the process of changing one cell type into another in a living tissue/organism, we will be able to improve many issues related to aging, injuries and diseases. During the course of aging most of our cells loose their ability to function normally. Often, cells are lost from tissues, especially stem cells that have the difficult job of keeping our tissues, therefore our body, repaired after injuries or even as part of a normal cellular turnover. When we age, in some tissues stem cells are lost or become inefficient as it is the case for stem cells that give rise to the hair and to the pigmentation in the hair. So if we were able to make new stem cells from existing cells in the tissue(s) we would be able to remedy these issues.
SR: What excites you in today's science?
PH: Things we can do scientifically today are amazing. But I find the possibility of things we will be able to do in the future even more exciting. In all the fields of research, which are becoming more and more collaborative and co-dependent, scientists are making breakthroughs. For example it was published just this week in the journal Science that a single factor in the blood of young mice can reverse the effects of aging in the brain and muscles of old mice. The authors are planning to take steps that will prepare their work for applications in humans in the close future. Possibilities like this are what drive me, to be part of a team that can affect human life for the better.
SR: Who are the scientists that you admire?
PH: There have been/are great scientists in our present time and recent past. Great minds like Einstein, Watson, Crick, Craig Venter and many other Nobel prize winners are always an inspiration. But for me, the people I admire the most are the everyday scientists i work with, my colleagues and professors. The majority of which will never get a Nobel prize or even an adequate recognition for the work they do, but they are everyday people with great ideas that move mountains.
SR: How and when did you become a Raelian?
PH: I officially joined the Raelian Movement and did my transmission on August 6th 48AH at Elohika at age 15. But the summer prior to that, I attended the Happiness Academy, them called seminar, and participated to the first week (the awakening seminar). I had wanted to attend seminars before then, but I was too young to do so. I have been exposed to the raelian philosophy early on in my life since both my parents have been active Raelians and part of the few first Raelians in Kama (Africa). I was amazed by the way the Raelian messages were introduced to me by my parents. In most if not all religions, parents tend to automatically enroll their kids to the group of their belief without necessarily giving them the choice or asking for their opinion. In my case, I was given a booklet with a one-page summary of about 20 different religions. It read through it and later asked to read Rael's books. It was after that that I attended my first Happiness Academy.
SR: Is it challenging to be at the same time a Raelian and a scientist? Did you experience any difficulty? Did it help you?
PH: To me it is not difficult being a Raelian and a scientist. It is because I am a Raelian that I am a scientist today. Being a Raelian allows me to think beyond the scientific breakthroughs we have done so far. I like knowing that the Elohim went through similar steps to get to the point where they could create life in their laboratories. The facinating idea that they created us through science made me more interested in Biology and research. It is a slow process, but we will get there; maybe with their help if we can organize ourselves to welcome them in the embassy.
SR: What are your current responsibilities or activities in the Raelian Movement?
PH: At the moment, one of the projects that I am involved with at the moment is the Back to Kama project led by our dear bishop Gbedia. I am also working on an exciting science video project with other Raelians.
SR: What are you currently working on, at Harvard University?
PH: I still do stem cell research, but this time with mammalian cells. The lab in which I work does mainly translational research. Therefore, the projects are more disease-based. The general approach is to use mature cells derived form stem cells from diseased patients, and to test various chemicals in the hope of finding one that has an effect on the disease. My own project is about muscular regeneration. The results might find applications in many disorders affecting muscles.
SR: And finally, can you tell us one of the important things about the Raelian philosophy that you would like everyone to know?
PH: Arts and meditation as well as science hold a key place in the Raelian philosophy. To me being a scientist is as important as finding ways to express myself artistically whether it be through cooking a meal I enjoy or dancing to the sound of African drums, or wearing clothes that are different. I take the time to give those small gifts to myself and also to meditate. I was very pleasantly surprised a couple of weeks ago when I found out about the art week at Harvard. The theme was “Make art” and throughout the campus, there were stations set up for pottery, painting, dancing, etc. For the dances, the performances were done by Harvard students and were of professional grade. So not only students are trained to excel in the classroom, they are also encouraged to explore their artistic side. And that is one thing that the Raelian messages encourage. As far as meditation, in today's fast-paced lifestyle, we tend to focus more on producing results and not taking much time to give back to ourselves. It is well known that daily meditation helps reduce stress and promotes a sense of well-being. It is encouraging to see more and more people are becoming aware of it and actually take the time to meditate.