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Scientific discovery propelled Cesar Bautista Sotelo on journey from Texas to Massachusetts

PhD candidate credits UMass Medical School PREP program for helping guide his way

By Kylee Denesha

UMass Medical School Communications

March 15, 2021

Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences PhD candidate Cesar Bautista Sotelo fondly recalls how much he enjoyed trips with his mother to his local library as a young child to check out the Magic School Bus series videotapes. That love of learning was fostered throughout his education.

“I was fortunate enough to have a great biology teacher in high school,” Bautista Sotelo said. “She made science fun and relatable. It helped me decide that science is the right way for me and I wanted to continue it in my higher education.”

Bautista Sotelo grew up in Texas and earned his bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. His first research experience was working on synthesizing an organic compound that arrested fast-dividing cancer cells, which provided an open door to symposiums and conferences, inspiring him to continue this work at UMass Medical School.

“Moving from Texas to Massachusetts was a big change for me, but it quickly felt like home,” he said. “Adjusting from one big city to another city made it a bit easier. I was eager to find an avenue toward my passions that would allow me to excel. This is how I got to UMass Medical School through the Postbaccalaureate Research Education Program.”

PREP is a one-year, NIH-funded program of the GSBS that offers participants the opportunity to enhance academic preparedness and lab or clinical research experience before enrolling in graduate school. A primary goal of PREP is to increase the diversity of the biomedical science graduate student population.

“At first, I was not sure if I wanted to pursue a PhD, but this program helped me solidify my decision in pursuing brain research. It got me comfortable with lab practice and I was able to meet new friends who I still speak to regularly. The GSBS community is all about coming together and helping one another. As a first-generation college student, I am eager to push forward with my education.”

Bautista Sotelo’s studies in the lab of Michael Lodato, PhD, assistant professor of molecular, cell & cancer biology, focus on aging in the brain as it relates to somatic mutations accumulating throughout life.

Somatic mutations—alterations that occur in the DNA after conception—are rare and thus difficult to study using traditional methods. Bautista Sotelo uses a variety of cutting-edge single-cell genomic and bioinformatic techniques to shed light on how these mosaic variants play a role in human development, aging and disease.

“If you can imagine cells as being little neighbors, you can get one mutation in one cell but not the other neighbors. Over time, the DNA within that one cell starts looking different from its neighbors; this is what we call somatic mosaicism. A mosaic is usually a tiling or patchwork of a bunch of different colors, which is comparable to what the DNA looks like,” Bautista Sotelo said.

Bautista Sotelo is involved in the GSBS peer mentoring program and serves as a co-vice president of the GSBS Diversity Interest Group, which connects the local and campus community to events and discussions around advocacy, diversity and inclusion. He also serves as a founding member of the Student Government Alliance Diversity Equity and Inclusion Pillar. Its mission is to enhance communication between all student-led diversity groups at UMMS.

“With all the diversity group work that I’m doing on campus, and also with my research, I want to get to a point where I can give back to my community and help out others,” Bautista Sotelo said.

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