Stepping Stones

PhD graduate Xavier du Maine studies blood-brain barrier, works to create more inclusive community

head shot of du maine sitting on a couch with succulent plant nearby
Xavier du Maine. Image courtesy Xavier du Maine

 

Xavier du Maine misses his lab.

“I do mouse research, so the quarantine is going to delay my experiments,” he says. “But it’s giving me more time to think about my science so that when we get back, I can hit the ground running.”

Du Maine is using the time away from the lab to get a jump on his dissertation and a paper he’s preparing for publication. He’s not someone who likes to be idle: In addition to working as a biological and biomedical sciences PhD candidate in the laboratory of HMS neurobiology professor Chenghua Gu, he is a member of Underrepresented Scholars in Neuroscience, Minority Biomedical Scientists of Harvard, and the Christian Medical and Dental Association. Last year, he was named a Diversity and Inclusion Fellow in Harvard’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

As a biology undergraduate at Columbia University, the St. Louis native spent one summer studying ALS at Washington University and another researching Alzheimer’s disease at UCSF, but when Harvard’s Summer Honors Undergraduate Research Program unexpectedly paired him with Dragana Rogulja, an assistant professor of neurobiology in the Blavatnik Institute at HMS, and into the lab of Rogulja’s frequent research collaborator, HMS neurobiologist Michael Crickmore at Boston Children’s Hospital, he shifted gears academically. The two scientists “just live and breathe science,” says du Maine. “Their passion and enthusiasm were contagious.” They sparked his interest in basic science and his desire to study it “at Harvard in particular.”

Du Maine is now looking at cellular pathways in the blood-brain barrier. “I love it because it straddles the line between basic and translational neuroscience,” he says. “Research like this can have a huge impact, because as much as we don’t know about diseases and how they work, multiply that by one hundred and that’s how little we know about the fundamentals of how the brain works.”

As fascinating as du Maine finds academic research, his goal is to use his PhD as a stepping-stone to an administrative position in higher education.

“What really changed my perspective was becoming a GSAS diversity fellow,” he says.

“We address issues related to creating an inclusive community across the graduate schools.” He thinks he can leverage the early difficulties he faced as a minority STEM student to help “celebrate everyone’s differences and allow them to thrive.”

Meanwhile, the student groups he belongs to and his Christian faith have “been a foundation for me,” he says. “When things get rough and really dark, they are absolutely crucial for maintaining my sanity, putting things in perspective, and reminding me there’s a greater purpose.” 

This article appeared in the Spring 2020 issue of Harvard Medicine magazine and featured du Maine, who will graduate in May 2022. Please visit the HMS Graduation page to read more student profiles and graduation-related stories, and the latest information about the ceremonies.