Vera Bradley Foundation Scholars

Scholars

Through the generous support of the Vera Bradley Foundation for Breast Cancer, the IU School of Medicine is training a new generation of breast cancer researchers. Vera Bradley Foundation Scholars come from around the globe to collaborate with faculty and each other to advance our understanding of breast cancer and improve care for women.

Meet Maria B. Padua, PhD

Maria grew up in Caracas, Venezuela, a beautiful city that has been increasingly plagued by a high murder rate and an authoritarian government. From an early age, her grandmother urged her to leave the country to study. “I guess she always saw that in me,” Maria recalls.

As she grew older, Maria became fascinated by science. With research opportunities severely limited in her native country, her desire to study abroad grew even stronger. She set her sights on the United States. The problem? She didn’t speak English. So after earning an undergraduate degree, she got a job and saved up money to take English classes.

In 2002, Maria made her way to the University of Florida, where she earned a master’s in animal sciences and a PhD in animal molecular and cellular biology. Specifically, she focused on the female reproductive tract.

At first, the transition to the United States was a bit tough. She recalls her first time in a U.S. grocery store, when an employee asked if she wanted paper or plastic bags. “I had no idea what he was saying,” she laughs. “But here I am. It was hard, but I got through it.”

Research Focus

When it was time to leave Florida, Maria sought an opportunity that would tie in her interest in women’s health. That’s when she learned of the Vera Bradley Foundation Scholars program at the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center. It was a perfect fit.

Now, Maria focuses on chemotherapy resistance in breast cancer. In some women, treatment eventually stops working, causing their cancer to come back. She is trying to uncover the pathways that allow that to happen. By understanding what goes wrong, she can look for ways to fix the problem. “I love the lab,” she says. “I love research. I love to find new things.”

Maria is motivated by the idea of helping women—and by the team at Vera Bradley and the Vera Bradley Foundation. “I admire everybody at Vera Bradley,” she says. “I can see their commitment and how they get things done. I did research before but not in an environment like this. They are so committed to helping women with this terrible disease.”

Maria has come a long way from her childhood in Venezuela. As she reflects on her journey, she can’t help but think of her grandmother’s words of encouragement all those years ago. “I think she would be very proud and very happy,” she says.