Mónica Ninnette Orozco Figueroa

Banner Monica Orozco

Mónica Ninnette Orozco Figueroa was born in Guatemala City, Guatemala on August 2nd, 1975. At a young age she was diagnosed with what later got known as ”unilateral fibular hemimelia”, a rare genetic disorder were the fibular bone is missing and there are associated limb length discrepancy, foot deformities, and knee ligament problems. A series of experimental and invasive limb lengthening surgeries from 1983 to 1992 led her to finally recover her ability to walk without aids. In 1994 she started her bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry at Universidad del Valle de Guatemala (UVG), which she concluded in 1999. That same year she started working for the Public Ministry´s Forensic Laboratory as a crime scene and laboratory technician. At that point she realized that research was her real passion and decided to study the MSc in Food Science and Technology at UVG (2001-2004).   On 2001, she began working at the Center for the Studies of Sensory Impairment, Aging and Metabolism (CeSSIAM), with whom she collaborates up to date. The center is dedicated to conduct scientific research on nutrition and health-related topics. This was the beginning of a great learning and personal experience for Mónica. She was lucky enough to work with Dr. Noel Solomons, one of the most recognized researchers in the nutrition field worldwide, who not only was her mentor, but also opened a series of exciting opportunities in science for her.

           While working at CESSIAM, she conducted research centered on the safe and effective delivery of micronutrients, such as iron and vitamin A, to vulnerable populations, especially children and women in reproductive age. In the year 2004 she won a scholarship from the International Nutrition Foundation- Ellison Medical Foundation (INF-EMF) to study her PhD in Food and Nutritional Sciences at the University of Manitoba, Canada.   During this stage of her career she worked with iron supplements and from this perspective, she has studied fundamental issues surrounding the biology and toxicology of iron as a nutrient and biological oxidant. The findings from these studies have been published in several peer-reviewed international journals and presented in international forums within the U.S., Scotland, Morocco, Spain, Portugal, Mexico, Brazil, and Switzerland, among others.

            Dr. Orozco completed her PhD in the year 2008 and was appointed as Laboratory Manager at the Plant Protection Laboratory at UVG. In 2012 she was promoted to Head of the MSc in Food Technology Management program and awarded the TWAS Prize for Young Scientists in Developing Countries: Guatemala. The next year, Dr. Orozco was appointed as Director of the Center for Atitlán Studies (CEA-UVG), which demanded her to move to Lake Atitlán, Sololá, in the western highlands of Guatemala, one of the poorest regions in the country. Her duties are to direct the research and administrative activities of the center, focusing on the environmental and health issues affecting this area.   This change led her to work in a broader aspect of science, integrating health, nutrition, agriculture, policy-making and environment into her scientific work. Although she continues working in human nutrition-related studies, since her appointment at the CEA-UVG, she has been collaborating in projects which explore the biological and environmental dynamics of Lake Atitlán’s watershed. The complexity of the social and cultural dynamics within the local indigenous communities living in the Lake and the need to use science as a base for decision and policy makers have steered Mónica into a new direction in her career, offering her the opportunity to translate science into action.

            Currently, Dr. Orozco lives and works in Sololá with her two children: Rafael (10) and Brianna (5) and continues expanding her research in the field of human health and nutrition.