Photo:

Susanne Muekusch

It's all over now... Thanks everyone for great questions and fun chats- you were awesome!

My CV

Education:

I attended a primary school and a grammar school in Germany (1990-2003). I studied Molecular Biotechnology at Heidelberg University (2003-2008) and spent one year in Sweden at Umea University (2006-2007)

Qualifications:

Bachelor and Master of Science in Molecular Biotechnology

Work History:

None- I am a highly qualified person without work history ;-) I will get my first contract next year in january.

Current Job:

PhD student in neurobiology / tumorbiology

Employer:

Neurological Institute, University Hospital Frankfurt, Germany

Me and my work

I do research on brain cancer cells to understand more about how they grow- which eventually may help to develop new therapies.

myimage1 About me: I am 28 years old, married and live together with my husband in the town Langen near Frankfurt in Germany. We have two cats, Lilli and Camillo, who “help” me writing my dissertation. Mostly by lying down on the laptop or my papers or by trying to eat my pen. Very helpful 😉

My favourite place for vacations is somewhere in the middle of nowhere. There we go hiking or canoeing- I love to be  outdoors and enjoy the nature around me. Here are two pictures, one showing us on a hiking-with-a-donkey vacation in france, the other one shows me sea-kayaking in alaska.

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About my work: I try to find out a bit more about how brain cancers grow. A huge problem in the therapy of the worst kind of brain cancers is the way they are growing: They do not just grow as a tumor ball but single tumor cells are slowly walking around in the brain. I have included two images from my work to show you what I am talking about: red dots are normal brain cells, yellowish dots are tumor cells (they were stained to look like this). The first image shows an area at the tumor centre, where there are mainly tumor cells. The second picture shows tumor cells which have walked already quite a distance away from the tumor. This means, it is impossible to remove all tumor cells by surgery. Whatever big piece of the brain is removed, there will always be some tumor cells somewhere in the brain that remain. Sadly, this means that the tumor will come back. That’s why a lot of scientists are working on the question: What makes this cells walk around so much? If we get an answer to that question, we can then start thinking about how to keep them from doing that.

As I said, many many scientists are working on this question. And here is my little part of it: I am looking at a „master regulator“ molecule which is very important in other kinds of cancer like breast or colon cancer. In these cancers, the master regulator can switch the cell’s state from „resting“ to „walking around“. I would like to know if the master regulator can do the same in brain cancer (seems like it does) and how that works (seems like it works very differently then in breast or colon cancers). Excitingly, this master regulator is also in neural stem cells. Stem cells and cancer cells have some key things in common, for example their ability to divide and produce many many daughter cells. Therefore, another part of my project is to compare what the master regulator does in brain tumor cells and neural stem cells.

So much for my project. I explained mainly the cancer part of my project (since this is the cancer zone) but you are very much welcome to ask anything about or discuss about stem cells with me. I am looking forward to your questions!

My Typical Day

Right now I am writing my dissertation. Which means my typical day is really boring because I spend it in front of the computer. But here is some more information on what my typical day looked like and will look like:

This is stuff I do as an active scientist (I do not do all of it every day): do experiments, analyse the data, think about what the results mean, present my results to other scientists, learn about what other scientists in the field find out. Here is some additional information to give you an idea about what that means:

do experiments: I work a lot on cells from brain cancer patients or cells from fetal brains. I keep those cells alive in the lab, I grow and feed them. I can then do different experiments with the cells. Most of the experiments involve putting together really small amounts of reagents- a drop is already a lot for us!- and wait, and then I add another reagent, and wait… Depending on the experiment it takes between half a day and several days before I am done and see a result.

analyse the data: Sometimes I use computer programs to analyse data, but sometimes the data are just “what it looks like”, then I take a picture with a camera attached to a microscope. Here you can see such a picture showing a group of neural stem cells.

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Aren’t they pretty? Well, I have to admit, that they are not that colorful naturally. Here, the experiment was to stain two different proteins- one in green, the other one in red- so I could see where those proteins are.

think about what the results mean: This can be really tough! More than half of the results I get just tell me that something was wrong with the experiment itsself. That has to do with the complicated methods we use- so a lot can go wrong and it usually does. And the problem is: I usually do not know where it went wrong. Then I think about what I could do different to make it work. If the experiment itsself was fine, then it also happens a lot that I get something different than what I expected. Then I have to think about what that means for my working hypothesis.

present my results to other scientists, learn about what other scientists in the field find out: I think that is fairly self-explanatory. And also, this text is getting really long…

 

What I'd do with the money

I would support a “young scientists visit a school”- project I am involved in right now. Update: We visited the school today and had a great time explaining 9 year olds about DNA- next Monday we will experiment with the students to isolate DNA from tomatos.

I am taking part in a project where we young scientists visit a school and explain 9 year old children what DNA is (do you know?), talk about genes in tomatos and why some people have blue eyes and others brown ones. The children will also perform a real experiment where they extract the genetic material from tomatoes in the classroom. We will also take the schoolchildren to visit the university. In a laboratory they will have a look at some of their bodies’ cells and their own DNA. We spent the last months preparing this event and it will take place now in november- simultaneously to „I’m a scientist“. Seems like november is the „science and school“ month for me! If I win, I will support that project, that it can be continued with the next school class.

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

curious, open-minded, thoughtful

Who is your favourite singer or band?

I like to listen to pop and rock, oldies (60s) and classical music. I don’t really have a favourite singer or band.

What is the most fun thing you've done?

Ever? That’s a real hard one. I don’t think anything sticks out that much. The most fun thing I did recently was a role play evening with friends, trying to identify the murderer among us. The most spectacular fun thing was probably caving in New Zealand. The most fun thing others might not think of being fun was a night walk with a UV-torch to find scorpions. Under UV light they show up as bright green glowing! And that’s the kind of thing only scientists can get exited about ;-)

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

good health (because you can’t really enjoy much of the rest, if you don’t have it), our own house and that I will make it as a professional science illustrator.

What did you want to be after you left school?

When I left school I wanted to become a scientist. Before it was either scientist or artist.

Were you ever in trouble in at school?

Sometimes, with the boys in primary school…

What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

I figured out why the same (simple) experiment worked always in some peoples hands but never in others. I found out that the machine we used was half-broken. If you put your samples in the left half of the machine, it worked, if you put it in the right half, it didn’t. And some people always put in the right, some always put in the left half of the machine. That’s why it worked for some people and for others it didn’t. The latter were pretty desperate and they loved me for identifying the error.

Tell us a joke.

aaah, I’d rather not.

Other stuff

Work photos:

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My fellow scientists and me. The majority of scientists in the life sciences on our campus is young and female. No elderly men with long beards… In the background you can see our lab, the photo is taken in our office.

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Me at my computer.

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We are trying hard to meet the stereotype 😉 But no, that’s not what work usually looks like.

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and one more picture of pretty neural stem cells.