Oihana Iriondo, PhD, the newest Broad Postdoctoral Fellow, has always been curious about how things work.

“What I like about science is that you are constantly learning new things and unlearning things that you thought you knew, when new evidence proves old theories wrong,” she said. “What drove me to study biology was my desire to understand how complex systems develop and function at the cellular and molecular levels, and what goes wrong in disease.”

Guided by this curiosity, she studied human biology and biomedicine as an undergraduate — first at the University of the Basque Country near her hometown of Oñati, and then at Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona. She volunteered in research labs and discovered her passion for developmental biology and cancer.

She joined a breast cancer laboratory at CIC bioGune in the Basque Country, where she earned her PhD and also met her husband, who is originally from Italy.

Together, they decided to move to the United States, where they felt they would find the best scientific opportunities during their postdoctoral training. Iriondo did a Skype interview with Min Yu, MD, PhD, assistant professor of stem cell biology and regenerative medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. They immediately clicked, both in their personalities and in their shared research interests in breast cancer.

At the Keck School, Iriondo has worked on several projects related to breast cancer metastasis. Currently, she is exploring how the tumor environment influences breast cancer cells and their ability to evade the immune system — as they break off from the primary tumor, enter blood circulation, travel to distant organs and form metastases.

“We think that a better understanding of these mechanisms will be valuable to improve the efficacy of different treatment options, including chemotherapy and immunotherapy,” Iriondo said.

As she continues this important research, the Broad Fellowship not only provides critical financial support, but also prestigious recognition of her ability to secure independent funding. As part of a $2 million gift from The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, the fellowship supports exceptional senior postdoctoral researchers as they transition into running their own stem cell laboratories.

Looking ahead to her independent academic career, Iriondo is open-minded about whether she and her family will make their permanent home in Europe or in the United States. She currently lives in Santa Monica with her husband and their toddler, and enjoys traveling with friends.

“Our friends are family for us,” Iriondo said. “Because we are so far from our families, you make your own small family here.”

Wherever life leads, Iriondo will follow her curiosity with the ultimate goal of having a positive impact on society.

“Because I do basic cancer research, that impact would be expanding knowledge about the disease,” she said, “and helping find treatments that are more efficient and have less side effects for cancer patients.”