“My time at the Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences (CCBS) at the University of Edinburgh, although short, was one of the most rewarding experiences in my research career so far”
By Tetiana Poliakova, Eurolife Mobility Program Grantee (2019-2020) from Karolinska Institutet at the University of Edinburgh
I came to Edinburgh in the Spring semester of 2020 to pursue my master’s thesis towards a degree in Biomedicine at Karolinska Institutet. During my time at the CCBS I worked with Prof. Joanna Wardlaw and Dr Antoine Vallatos to develop a translational image analysis protocols to quantify disease burden in a novel rodent model of small vessel disease (SVD). It is essential for us to better understand SVD, as it constitutes a global health burden causing one in five strokes and contributing to about 50% of all dementias worldwide.
I chose the University of Edinburgh for my thesis work not only for its well-known excellence in neuroimaging, my main research interest, but also because of the long-standing and fruitful collaboration between my home institution, Karolinska Institutet, and the University of Edinburgh through Eurolife partnership. I was intrigued to learn more about the network and all participating institutions. Subsequently, in addition to Erasmus mobility scholarship, my travelling and stay in Edinburgh was supported by Eurolife travel grant.
After defending my master thesis at Karolinska Institutet, I graduated with a master’s degree in Biomedicine. It is a huge honor for me to graduate from one of the top medical universities in the world while completing my master thesis in another top world university and, even more special, in the leading lab on small vessel disease. My time at the CCBS proved to be an important stepping stone to my dream career as a medical researcher in the future. Furthermore, I had a unique opportunity to explore a different culture and experience education system in the United Kingdom.
“The exchange encouraged me to pursue masters in the UK”
By Farsan Rahman, Eurolife Mobility Program Grantee (2019-2020) from Karolinska Institutet at the University of Edinburgh
I am Farsan Rahman and I recently graduated from Karolinska Institute with a bachelor’s degree in Biomedicine. In the last semester of my studies, I conducted my degree project in a microbiology laboratory at the University of Edinburgh. During my exchange, I worked under the supervision of Professor Jose Vazquez-Boland and Dr. Mariela Scortti to study virulence of Listeria monocytogenes. More specifically, the research focused on how a specific gene contributes to virulence of the bacteria.
Positive regulatory factor A (prfA) is the main virulence regulator in L. monocytogenes. Therefore, my project involved assessing prfA activity in a target gene mutant and wild type bacteria. Although my time in the lab was cut short due to COVID, the results indicated that the gene of interest facilitated virulence.
This project was the ideal opportunity for me to design experiments and work independently in a research setting. I was able to attend some seminars organized by the department, which kept me informed about the latest research in the field. In terms of technical skills, I learned to develop a mutant bacterial strain and perform phenotypic analysis to evaluate virulence. I attended group meetings every week to present my work and discuss potential improvements to the experiments. These group meetings were a valuable part of my experience because we were able to come together as a group and tackle specific problems that may arise during the experiments. The supervision I received gave me the ability to work and think independently but also discuss with other members of the group to overcome an issue or improve an experiment.
I feel extremely fortunate to be able to participate in the exchange program. Living on my own in a different country needed some adjustment, but over time it felt like a second home, and encouraged me to pursue masters in the UK. During my exchange, I have met some exceptional people who made my time in Edinburgh very enjoyable. Despite the pandemic, I really appreciate my experience, and I am extremely grateful to the people who made it so wonderful.
“Going abroad is a not to be missed experience that helps you grow as a person”
By Laura van Leeuwe Kirch, Eurolife Mobility Program Grantee (2019-2020) from the Laiden University Medical Center at Karolinska Institutet
I am a second year master’s student in Biomedical Sciences at Universiteit Leiden. Last year, I decided to go abroad for my research internship at a Eurolife institution. I got the opportunity to do so at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden. Here, I had the privilege to be part of Rolf Kiessling’s group at the department of Oncology-Pathology. Dr. Kiessling has a broad scientific expertise, an extensive scientific network and was involved with the discovery of Natural Killing (NK) cells. Moreover, the group is very international and works closely together with several other research groups, thus forming an excellent learning environment.
My research project was focused on the effect of targeted drugs on melanoma immunogenicity. I exposed different melanoma cell lines to several targeted drugs and analysed expression of molecules related to antigen presentation and immune inhibition through flow cytometry. Recognition of these melanoma cells by T cells was investigated through co-culture, followed by ELISA. This project generated interesting results and may eventually enhance cancer treatment. I also worked on a side project in which the goal was to improve adoptive T cell therapy. I was incredibly lucky to present this project in the form of a poster at SITC 2019 (Maryland, USA).
This internship has been valuable to me in many ways. Not only have I grown as a researcher by learning many laboratory techniques and analysing data, but I have also worked mostly independently and improved my project management skills. In addition, the Karolinska Institutet is a wonderful environment for any aspiring researcher due to its many dedicated researchers. Lastly, I met many amazing people who made me feel welcome and helped me both professionally and personally. All in all, going abroad is a not to be missed experience that helps you grow as a person. I would certainly recommend everyone with the possibility to go abroad, to do so.
“I really enjoyed the two months in Innsbruck, from a personal and educational aspect. I would love to have the same opportunity again”
By Alicia Toston Lamm, Eurolife Mobility Program Grantee (2019-2020) from the University of Strasbourg at the Medical University of Innsbruck
My name is Alicia Toston Lamm and I am a student in Human and Molecular Biology in the frame of a Franco-German double degree at the universities of Strasbourg and Saarbrücken. Last semester, I got the opportunity to attend the Eurolife lectures in Strasbourg. Professors coming from the Eurolife university partners like the Medical University of Innsbruck (MUI), the Trinity College Dublin (TCD) and the University of Barcelona (UB) gave us lectures about a topic related to their current research. At one of these lectures in Strasbourg I met Prof. Christoph Schwarzer from the Medical University of Innsbruck. He introduced us into gen therapy of focal epilepsy, which caught my interest. After the lecture, I asked him if it would be possible for me to do an internship in his laboratory during the summer and we agreed on a two-month internship.
During my internship, I was involved in molecular cloning of novel, on demand designed, receptors. Therefore I used molecular biological techniques like standard cloning and Gibson assembly. At the same time, I worked in the cell culture and improved my skills in mastering basic cell culture techniques. I also produced my own chemical competent cells and verified their transformation efficiency.
Moreover, I extracted DNA from agarose gels using the freez and squeeze method. Lastly, I got an insight in electrophysiology, especially the patch-clamp technique. Naturally, I was interested in the background of the project and the techniques so I read scientific papers and articles to better understand. I wrote protocols for the methods I established during my internship, which is a great opportunity because I got an insight on how to properly write protocols and scientific papers. As a Bachelor student, I didn’t have the chance to learn molecular biological techniques used in laboratories in the frame of my studies so I am very grateful for Eurolife, allowing students to learn these techniques in an international learning environment. My supervisors during the internship let me learn independently and were always there for me if I had any questions regarding the project in general or the techniques I was using. Moreover, I was discovering a new country and met a lot of international students like me. Eurolife also supports my mobility
with 500€, which covers part of transportation, living expenses or accommodation. I really enjoyed the two months in Innsbruck, from a personal and educational aspect. I would love to have the same opportunity again. I highly recommend to take the opportunity of these internships, facilitated by Eurolife.
“I developed my bachelor’s thesis in Stockholm, at Science for Life Laboratory”
By Adrià Gassó Alern, Eurolife Mobility Program Grantee (2019-2020) from the University of Barcelona at Karolinska Institutet
The main research areas of the Simon Elsässer Group are chromatin and epigenetic dynamics and the improvement of new techniques such as amber suppression or MINUTE-ChIP, which are routinely used to achieve their purposes.
Despite COVID-19 pandemic, I could continue my project and going to the lab due to the Swedish government’s decision not to rule a lockdown or hard circulation restrictions.
The title of my thesis is “Study of Rpb1 dynamics using stable amber suppression cell lines”. Rpb1 is the largest subunit of RNA polymerase II (RNAP2), the enzymatic complex that catalyzes the transcription process in eukaryotes. The phosphorylation pattern of its C-terminal domain is known to be essential to regulate the activity of the RNAP2 and depend on its position related to the promoter. For the project, I had stable amber suppression cell lines, which were transfected with Rpb1 constructs. Amber suppression is a novel labelling method based on the use of a non-canonical amino acid (ncAA) to suppress a strategically introduced stop codon (amber codon). Rpb1 construct contained an amber codon that could be suppressed as long as ncAA was added to the growth medium, thereby allowing the production of the protein of interest. Employing amber suppression pulse strategy along with more standard lab techniques, I aimed to validate and characterize Rpb1 cell lines and examine its expression, localization and activation. First, western blot was used to assess if there was production of the protein when adding the ncAA. Once data was collected, I wondered whether Rpb1 could reach the nucleus. This was mainly answered using immunofluorescence microscopy, which allowed us to specifically observe the presence of the protein in the nucleus. Nevertheless, the results showed a huge variability for the cell population regarding its amber suppression efficiency, what led us to use fluorescent-activated cell sorting (FACS) to get highly efficient and homogeneous amber suppression monoclonal populations.
At the end of the project, it was also considered to test a new system, ProteinSimple Wes, as an alternative method to analyze and quantify protein expression. I managed to gather promising results for Rpb1 time-dependent production, once it was possible to find a good loading control. Further experiments were focused on the combination of Wes technique with immunoprecipitation assays so as to study the phosphorylation pattern and activation of the pulsed Rpb1 pool. Finally, the functionality of Rpb1 could be confirmed by its association to Rpb2 (coimmunostaining).
“SIALIC ACID-MEDIATED VIRULENCE MECHANISMS OF STREPTOCOCCUS PNEUMONIAE”
By Salomé Monreal Louly, Eurolife Mobility Program Grantee (2019-2020) from the University of Barcelona at Karolinska Institutet
Pneumococcal infections are a leading cause of death in children under five years of age worldwide, causing about a million deaths in this category each year, especially in less- developed countries. Streptococcus pneumoniae causes diseases that range from mild respiratory tract infections to more severe diseases such as pneumonia, meningitis and even bacteremia and sepsis, and is considered the major bacterial cause of community-acquired pneumonia. Today, even with the existence of pneumococcal vaccines, the lack of coverage of a number of widely common serotypes and the rising threat of the emergence of non- vaccine serotypes account for the fact that a considerable number of pneumococcal infections are not prevented.
This project researches the glycan-based virulence mechanisms of S. pneumoniae and focuses on the importance of its adaptation to sialic acids of the human host, with respect to pneumococcal sialidases. Our results show greater adhesion rates of this pathogen to host cells grown in a human-like sialic acid environment than to cells grown in a non-human one and suggest that this distinction could be essential for pneumococcal colonization of the human respiratory tract. In addition, our research explores the broad diversity of the major pneumococcal sialidase NanA and analyzes the distribution and frequency of secreted and cell wall-bound variants of this virulence factor. We reveal the existence of a new pneumococcal variant of NanA containing choline-binding domains, probably related to S. pseudopneumoniae by recombination events and potentially changing the pathogenesis of pneumococcal infections. Our findings give insight into the role of pneumococcal sialidase NanA in Sia-mediated pneumococcal-host interaction and into the genetic variation of this key virulence factor which might be of importance for the development of future therapeutics and vaccines.
“It strengthens your ability to adapt to a different research system and to be more open-minded”
By Alexandre Dumez, Eurolife Mobility Program Grantee (2019-2020) from the University of Strasbourg at the Leiden University Medical Center
I recently performed my Master’s thesis with the Eurolife Mobility program: I was supervised by Dr. K. Marijt, who is part of the Experimental Cancer Immunology and Therapy program directed by Prof. S.H. van der Burg and Prof. T. Van Hall at the LUMC, Leiden. My master’s thesis was about the effects of MHC-I presentation on cancer cells under metabolic stress. I used the CRISPR/Cas9 technology, and a panel of inhibitors in various cellular in vitro assays and analyzed MHC-I presentation by cancer cells using flow cytometry and qPCR. This project generated interesting results that further formed an important part of a research proposal.
Thanks to this opportunity, I acquired a strong basis in molecular and cellular biology and I had the chance to be part of numerous oncology, immunology seminars. I thoroughly enjoyed working in a different research system and being welcomed in a team mainly composed of dutch people, which helped me to discover this really interesting culture. Thanks to the trust of my supervisors in their students, I quickly became autonomous and independent. After these 7 months, I now feel more confident and sure about my project to continue my scientific career in oncology/immunology research.
Despite the coronavirus crisis, I had the chance to stay in an international student residence (part of the Leiden university housing program) in Leiden where I wrote my master’s thesis in our beautiful courtyard and continued to go forward with the project thanks to zoom meetings with my supervisors.
Being abroad and starting a new life alone in a new city / new lab is always a difficult challenge, however it strengthens your ability to adapt to a different research system and to be more open-minded. Through the benefit and wealth of experiences that the Eurolife Mobility Program has provided me with, I would strongly encourage future students to pursue this opportunity if given the chance.
“Great opportunity to acquire the main key competences in order to pursue my scientific career”
By Palmira Llorens Giralt, Eurolife Mobility Program Grantee (2018-2019) from the University of Barcelona at the Leiden University Medical Center
I conducted my research project at the Department of Anatomy and Embryology in the LUMC with Dr. Susana M. Chuva de Sousa Lopes group. Their main goal is to understand the molecular pathways involved in the regulation of development, with particular interest in the urogenital system. They aim to understand human gametogenesis by combining efforts on fertility preservation and in vitro inducing and maturation of germ cells. They are among the few research groups that have access to human fetal tissue, which is an extremely rare and valuable source of information.
I would say this internship has been very enriching for me in many aspects. Not only have I learnt many laboratory techniques, but I have also learnt how to plan by myself, write or improve protocols and analyse data self-sufficiently. On the other hand, I have had many people (mostly technicians) help me through the internship, especially in learning how to use the fluorescent microscopes (confocal and spinning-disk) and laboratory protocols such as tissue culture and histology.
In conclusion, I think that fulfilling the “TFG” in the LUMC has been a great opportunity to acquire the main key competences in order to pursue my scientific career. Moreover, living abroad in an unknown environment is always very enriching. I have grown not only professionally but also in many personal aspects. Therefore, I highly recommend future students to apply for an Erasmus research project involved in the Eurolife programme.
“I got to know a new country and a new culture”
By Anna-Lena Katzke, Eurolife Mobility Program Grantee (2017-2018) from the University Medical Center at the Trinity College Dublin
I had a great time at the Trinity College in Dublin. I was able to improve my English and meet a lot of new people. In addition, to that I wrote my Bachelor’s thesis in Dublin, I got to know a new country and a new culture. Going to Ireland to write my thesis was a very good opportunity to learn new methods and improve my vocabulary.
I strongly recommend taking the opportunity to go abroad to anyone that has the possibility. I am very grateful for the support by the Eurolife Mobility Program that enabled me to go abroad.
“I can recommend this experience to every student”
By Jonas Wilhelm Hemesath, Eurolife Mobility Program Grantee (2017-2018) from the University Medical Center Göttingen at the Trinity College Dublin
With the Eurolife mobility program I had the chance to write my bachelor thesis at the Trinity College Dublin. During this project I became not only more confident and independent in my work, but I had also the chance to experience another culture and to make contact with new people. I can recommend this experience to every student, who is considering an internship or a thesis abroad.
“It is a valuable experience to go abroad for an internship, and I would recommend it to every student!”
By Marit van der Pol, Eurolife Mobility Program Grantee (2016-2017) from the Leiden University Medical Center at the University of Strasbourg
I am a second year Biomedical Sciences Master’s student, and I decided to go abroad for my internship at a Eurolife institution. The group where I am doing my internship is from the Institute National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médical (INSERM) unit 1113 (Director: Jean-Noël Freund) team 2 (Team leader: Christian Gaiddon) in Strasbourg which focuses on developmental and cell stress signaling in digestive and urological cancers. The lab is located next to a big university hospital and it is part of the University of Strasbourg. The group is in close contact with another research group in Zweibrücken (Germany), and by exchanging expertise, research can be performed in a highly efficient way. The group has already five patents, one license and a start-up company that arose from the research of anti-cancer effects of novel compounds containing ruthenium and osmium.
The research topic I am working on concerns the effects of platinum-based chemotherapeutical agents on the p53-family of transcription factors, which are involved in many processes such as cell cycle regulation and apoptosis. The research is focused on the enteric nervous system (ENS). With the use of in-vivo and ex-vivo models, underlying mechanisms of observed neuron degeneration upon anticancer treatment will be explored. It will provide information of a fundamental nature, possibly aiding in the development of therapeutic interventions to reduce gastro-intestinal side effects of platinum-based chemotherapeutical agents in the future. The topic is part of the PhD project of Anaïs Barthe.
The experience thus far has been truly enriching. It is difficult to know what to expect when you are going to another institution to perform research. In this case, not only the institution is different, but the entire country. It soon became clear that the atmosphere is nice, and I felt immediately free to ask questions when I had them. The moment when you are familiar enough at the lab to perform experiments on your own is really liberating and it allows you to feel like an independent researcher. It feels very good to be a part of a team that collaborates extensively with others. It is a valuable experience to go abroad for an internship, and I would recommend it to every student! Just inquire at the international coordinator of your institution.