When picturing a scientist, you may see the lab coat, gloves and lab equipment, but what you may not picture is the sacrifice.

One particular woman from Brazil had to leave her friends, family and country in order to pursue her dream of conducting research to help people. A passion she followed all the way to Utica, New York.

Luana Nunes Santos is researching if there is a link between congenital heart defects and autism. She is conducting the research at the Masonic Medical Research Institute in Utica.

“My eye can tell you; when I look to the cell that is healthy there is no mutation, and with the one with the mutation they look like really bad, so this is a sign for me there is something going on,” she said.

It’s serious work that Dr. Nunes Santos seriously loves. She says she comes in early and stays late, even working weekends.

“It means a lot for me and for my family to be here because I’m the first person to make it. It’s what drives me every day to wake up. I love what I do,” Dr. Nunes Santos said.

Santos grew up in Campinas, Brazil. The researcher says her family supports her, even though they may not understand exactly what kind of work she is doing. It's encouragement she says makes all the difference.

“Even though they don’t understand, they’re like, ‘You need to go. Follow your dreams. Pursue what you believe, and we’ll be here for you,’” said Nunes Santos.

Dr. Nunes Santos studied in Brazil, but had to leave in order to further her education and career. “To take something, you need to give up so that’s why it’s hard. It’s not easy,” she said.

She studied in Australia, and it was there she met the Masonic Medical Research Institute’s Executive Director at a lecture.

“I was like, ‘I need to work with her,'” said Nunes Santos.

One thing led to another, and when Dr. Nunes Santos was about to leave for the U.S., the pandemic hit. She wasted no time, contributing to coronavirus research in Brazil. When she could, she came to Utica, and hopes to inspire others to chase their dreams.

“If you believe and if you want it, it’s hard. It’s not easy. But you can try,” she said. “It’s better than just giving up and doing something else.”

Dr. Nunes Santos wishes more countries, like Brazil, invested more in education and science.

“I think we would have a better world for sure because once you have the knowledge or have the opportunity to have the knowledge, you think in a different way. You think of how you can help the community you’re part of,” she said.