Hispanic scientists
Our Heroes
Rachel Cavallaro

Hispanic Heritage Month Comes to an End

With diversity and inclusion being important in everyday life, we should honor scientists from a variety of backgrounds. Charles River scientist Dr. Nastassja Ortega, an employee for 13 years at Charles River, has shared her career experiences, support and opportunities she has received, and more specifically opportunities her heritage has provided her. As Director of Laboratory Operations at Avian Vaccine Services, she contributes to discovering the use of antibodies in place of antibiotics for the poultry industry, and provides laboratory products for poultry vaccine and diagnostic manufacturers.

Nastassja finds herself fortunate to work for a company that has given her equal opportunity in the workplace. Nastassja is viewed as a hard-working mom and an inspiration to other women. She was given the opportunity to further her education while still leading laboratory operations as an employee of Charles River, and earned her PhD in pathology in 2019.

A personal experience Nastassja has shared was when she was handed a tray in her college dining hall, assuming she was part of the kitchen staff. This personal experience caused Nastassja to feel distraught until one of the kitchen staff members sat down with her and told Nastassja to prove them otherwise with her education. To this day, this experience still pushes Nastassja to further her education and career.

“I could not have done it without Charles River’s support. Charles River is the only company I worked for since I graduated with my B.S. in Biology. The support and the opportunity provided to me, not to mention the importance of the work that we do here, is the reason why I stayed,” she said.

Nastassja believes that her upbringing has caused her to be the hardworking, intelligent woman she is today. Her father was born in Peru and has always been a hard worker and advocate for education. Her Puerto Rican mother loved science as much as she did, but never had the chance to really explore it. Both of Nastassja’s parents worked hard to provide the life they wanted for their daughter. The motivation and work ethic her parents taught her have made her work hard and prove herself.

To wrap up Hispanic Heritage Month, here are five other scientists that have had great impacts on their fields.

Severo Ochoa (1905-1993): Born in Luarca, Spain, Ochoa went to Málaga College, where he took his B.A. degree in 1921 and furthered his education at the Medical School of the University of Madrid, where he obtained his M.D. degree in 1929. He is responsible for the discovery of the mechanisms in the biological synthesis of DNA and RNA. Ochoa earned the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1959, the National Medal of Science for Biological Sciences in 1980, and the National Medal of Science for Chemistry in 1980.

Mario José Molina-Pasquel Henríquez (1943-2020): Born in Mexico City, Mexico, Henríquez studied chemical engineering at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. After being enrolled in a variety of schools around the world, in 1968 Henríquez left for the University of California at Berkeley to pursue his graduate studies in physical chemistry. He is responsible for his work in atmospheric chemistry, particularly concerning the formation and decomposition of ozone. Henríquez earned the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1995, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013.

Dr. Helen Rodriguez Trías (1929-2001): Born in New York, NY, Trías attended The University of Puerto Rico School of Medicine and graduated in 1960. After completing her residency in pediatrics at the University Hospital in San Juan, she began teaching at the medical school there. Trías is responsible for her efforts to support abortion rights, abolish enforced sterilization, and provide neonatal care to underserved people. Trias has received the following achievements. founding member of Committee to End Sterilization Abuse (1970); founding member of the Women's Caucus of the American Public Health Association (1971); founding member of the Committee for Abortion Rights and Against Sterilization Abuse (1979); first Latina to be elected president of the American Public Health Association (1993); recipient of the Presidential Citizen's Medal for her work on behalf of women, children, people with HIV and AIDS, and the poor (2001).

Luis Federico Leloir (1906-1987): Born in Paris, France. In 1932, after finally passing his anatomy exams on the fourth try, he received his diploma from the University of Buenos Aires and began his residency at Hospital de Clínicas and his medical internship at Ramos Mejía hospital. Leloir is responsible for his investigations of the processes by which carbohydrates are converted into energy in the body. Leloir has received the following achievements: Canada Gairdner International award (1966); Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize (1969);  Nobel Prize in Chemistry (1970).

Bernardo Alberto Houssay (1887-1971): Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Houssay entered the School of Pharmacy of the University of Buenos Aires at the early age of 14, graduating in 1904. He had already begun studying medicine and, in 1907, before completing his studies, he took up a post in the Department of Physiology. He began his research on the pituitary gland which resulted in his M.D. thesis (1911). Houssay is responsible for his discovery of the part played by the hormone of the anterior pituitary lobe in the metabolism of sugar. Houssay received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in1947 and the Guggenheim Fellowship for Natural Sciences, Latin America & Caribbean in 1957.