Physiology grad uses research skills in Health Canada drug-review role
When Dr. Ana Ludke completed her bachelor’s degree in her native Brazil, she quickly obtained a job as a registered dietitian.
“But I wasn’t sure if I had chosen the right path,” she remembers.
Realizing that this was not what she wanted to do long-term, Ludke reflected on her experience as a volunteer in a research lab. “I really liked research and I thought, you know what? I’m not over with school.”
Ludke went back to university and earned her master’s in physiology. She then came to Canada in 2008 to pursue her PhD in physiology and pathophysiology at UM, based at the Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences at St. Boniface Hospital. Her research there focused on the cardiac damage associated with cancer drugs.
“I found my passion asking questions and participating in research projects to answer them,” she says.
Ludke’s next move was to the University of Toronto in 2013 for postdoctoral cardiovascular research. She then took a position in a translational research lab, where the focus was on translating insights discovered through basic science to potential clinical applications. This position was more business-oriented, and grants were aligned with industry needs.
“The transition from Winnipeg to Toronto really opened my mind,” she says. “Talking to people who had the same research passion, but with different career interests, was really good.”
Since 2018, Ludke has been an assessment officer with Health Canada in Ottawa. She is responsible for reviewing cardio-renal drugs before they are approved for sale in Canada.
There is a rigorous review process in order for drugs to be approved, which can take up to 300 days. Sometimes additional data or research is required before a drug can be approved.
Ludke’s responsibilities include reviewing clinical data, providing critiques and making recommendations for approval. She credits her critical analysis skills to experience she gained as a graduate student. “My supervisor gave me papers to appraise data and to critically review with him, and that exercise was really helpful.”
One of the most rewarding aspects of her work is ensuring that drugs don’t pose undue risks to the public. “Safety is our first priority. I feel like the contribution to the safety of Canadians is what’s most important in what I do.”
Ludke says her graduate program at UM developed her capacity to value a range of perspectives.
“In graduate studies we interact with a diverse group of people. In research, there is also a diversity of opinions; based on the same facts, you can get to a different conclusion. Respecting that we all come from different backgrounds is an important transferable skill.”
Her advice for graduate students is that no matter how difficult the situation, there are always opportunities for learning.
“I didn’t have a set goal or final career destination in mind, and it worked in my favour because I enjoyed the experience of each job that I had, each academic lab that I joined, or each interaction that I had at a conference. Those are really good learning opportunities to be open and expand your view.”