Early stage researchers

Sachin K.S. Chauhan | Hannover Medical School, Hannover

“My name is Sachin and I am from India. I studied Biotechnology during my bachelor degree in India and completed a research masters in Cancer Research at the National University of Ireland. During my bachelor, I got an opportunity to work on a tumor immunology project in the Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO, INDIA). Later, I started working as a cancer researcher professional in ONKtherapeutics, Ireland. I realized I wanted to extend my research skills in tumor immunology and applied for the Marie-Curie fellowship. In 2019, I was awarded a Marie-Curie fellowship and started my early-stage-researcher journey at the Hannover Medical School in Germany.
My PhD project focuses on the development of genetically modified human natural killer cells against head and neck cancer, where I have been gaining deep knowledge of GMP standards, human NK cell handling in ex-vivo conditions, methods of genetic modification of human NK cells, and possible strategies to further restores human NK cells activity with immune checkpoint inhibitors.
Besides research, I like to sketch, paint and travel, and of course, I enjoy spending time with friends.”

Sonya Ciulean | Fraunhofer IZI, Leipzig

“Hi! My name is Sonya Ciulean and I joined the Fraunhofer IZI in Leipzig as a Marie Curie Fellow on the MATURE NK consortium in February 2019. I am originally from Romania and did my studies in Bucharest where I majored in Veterinary Medicine. I began transitioning from the clinics to the lab during my studies by doing volunteer work in a research institution. In research, I found different ways to apply my medical knowledge and skills and to build upon the excitement of learning how things work. This was driven by the thought that the research being done is leading to the development of treatments meant to aid certain afflictions. Today, I work with the same enthusiasm on developing CAR-NK cell therapies for solid tumors like head and neck cancer. When I am not busy in the lab, I like to spend my time outdoors biking and hiking. Taking care of my plants and drawing is where I find my peace, going to concerts and art exhibitions is where I get my fuel.”

Natalia Colomar Carando | University Hospital Genoa, Genoa

“Hi, I am Natalia! I was born in Barcelona, Spain, where I obtained my bachelor’s degree in Biotechnology and then my MSc in Biomedical Research at Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona. During my master’s thesis, I got the opportunity to attend national and international conferences, in which I got the chance to share and talk about my research. At that moment, I discovered my passion for biomedicine, which is why I applied for this position.
I am now pursuing my PhD in Genoa, Italy, where I have been focused on providing deeper insights on receptor/ligand interactions that occur between NK and leukemia cells, and possible strategies to enhance the NK cell-mediated anti-leukemia activity.
Besides science, I love being outdoors in nature, discovering new places and being around friends. During my stay in Italy, I visited beautiful cities and magical places all around the country, learned a new language, met a lot of people, and of course, I enjoyed the food.”

Jonathan Druge | Miltenyi Biotec, Bergisch-Gladbach

“Hi, I am Jonathan! I come from Paris and I am 27 years old. I joined the MATURE NK adventure when Miltenyi Biotec offered me the opportunity to do my Ph.D. on the topic of CAR NK cells.
You don’t know what this is? It’s very easy : when your body is infected by a pathogen or some cells start to proliferate out of control, many little soldiers (the immune cells) are sent to fight the bad guys. NK cells are the first responders but they can be tired quickly after an intense fight. The CAR (for Chimeric Antigen Receptor) is like the Marvel super serum: it transforms the NK cells in Captain AmerNKa, with a better ability to overpass the tumor cells defenses but also to proliferate quicker and survive longer. I learned a lot during this 3 years and I hope I will be able to help find a solution against cancer.
Besides my mad scientist activities, I am also a professional magician. I work for companies or people that want to bring a touch of magic to their events: weddings, birthdays, seminars. Every occasion is good. I practice since I am 12 and that really allowed me to fight my shyness, and to learn how to speak in public. I am also learning hypnosis and have a black belt in Judo. I learned respect, empathy and discipline through all these activities.”

Martin Fahrenberger | Medical University of Vienna, Max F. Perutz Laboratories, Vienna

“Hi, I’m Martin a PhD student in the von Haeseler lab in Vienna. During my PhD I’m working on bioinformatics method development with application in single cell RNA-seq.
However, my path here was not always clear. When I was 16, I finished school and went on to do an apprenticeship as a Mechatronics Engineer. I had a great time during my apprenticeship, but also realised that I wanted to continue learning and studying. I went on to get my “Abitur”, with the plan of studying Mechatronics Engineering which then changed to studying Physics and then again to Computational Science, the subject I finally studied at the University of Regensburg for my bachelor’s and master’s.
I enjoyed my time at university and was lucky enough to gain a full scholarship from the “German Academic Scholarship Foundation”. This reassured me in my path and gave me the opportunity to spend a year abroad at the University of Nottingham.
Throughout my studies, I worked on multiple bioinformatics projects and became very interested in the subject. So, when my master’s came to an end I decided to apply as a PhD-student in the field.”

Alexandra Ivanchak | Fraunhofer IZI, Leipzig

“My name is Aleksandra Ivanchak and I am from Russia. I studied medicine at St. Petersburg State University. After training, I worked as a doctor for some time, while simultaneously doing research. In our research together with the Institute of Experimental Medicine, we studied changes in the populations of lymphoid cells in patients with autoimmune thyroiditis in comparison with healthy people. I am currently doing a PhD at my alma mater. The Marie Curie program provided me with an excellent internship opportunity in Germany, where I began to pay special attention to NK cells and their changes in patients with Hashimoto's thyroiditis and tumors, as well as to determine the prospects for their use in the treatment of these tumors.
In my free time I like to ride a bike, go hiking and play volleyball. I also really like to travel to different countries, study the culture of these countries, taste national dishes, learn new languages and of course to make new friends.”

Rebecca Kotzur | Hebrew University Jerusalem

“Hi, I’m Rebecca and I’m from a little mountainside in Germany, the Harz. Currently, I’m spending my time in Jerusalem with my fascinating boss Ofer. When I’m not in the lab, I enjoy Pilates and biking, but my true passions are reading and knitting.
On my way to biomedical research, I first started in school by participating in regional science competitions, but after graduation I started to study biology at the Baltic Sea. Very fast it became apparent that I wouldn't want to further specialize to marine biology, but I was rather fascinated with microscopic organisms that can be found outside (and of course inside as well) of water. After a brief flirt with fungi in the end of my Bachelor's degree, I decided it was time for a switch to biomedical research in Hannover. During my time there I was able to see the research behind stem cell derived myocardium and other organs as well as tissue engineering porcine heart valves. This was my first extensive relationship with immunology.
The first time I came to my lab was when I was doing an internship during my master’s degree in Biomedicine at the MHH in Hannover. For the first time in my scientific career, I felt like the work I’m doing can be actually applied in the clinics to help people. The interconnection between science and clinic was and still is an amazing thing about the medical school of the Hebrew University.
During my time in Israel, I learned a lot, not only identifying well-made Hummus, but also to work in an entirely different cultural place that is in many ways the literal opposite of structured Germany. I learned to love NK cell subsets and their potential to improve immunological research and that mice don’t know any shame.”

Irene Garcés Lázaro | University Heidelberg – Faculty Mannheim

“My name is Irene Garcés Lázaro, I am 26 and I come from Zaragoza (Spain) but I’m currently living in Mannheim (Germany). Besides being a PhD student, I like cooking and taking care of my plants. Covid time was making it harder to have social activities, but going for Christmas Markets, riding my bike and playing board games are a huge part of my free time amusement.
How did I become a scientist? I guess as a teenager, during high school, I was engaged with the biology field, so I decided to go further and study Biomedical Sciences. I started at 17, I finished at 21, and since I had the opportunity to do internships in several labs focusing on cancer, I pursued my hunch and did a master in translational oncology in Barcelona. After finishing it, I faced the decision of what to do next (which I think is a scary moment for almost everyone in research). Should I go for a company? Should I do a PhD? Should I do another master to be more qualified and have a more competitive CV?
I was asking around to my colleagues in the lab of my master, where to find job offers, what they did to start their career, etc. After several applications and rounds of preselection, I got a position in Heidelberg University within the MATURE-NK consortium. Therefore, here I am, in my third year PhD in the group headed by Prof. Cerwenka, focusing on NK cells and immunotherapy.”

Simone Mantesso | Glycostem Therapeutics, Oss

“Hi, I am Simone and I joined the MATURE-NK consortium in early 2019 as a PhD student at Glycostem Therapeutics in Oss, The Netherlands. I come from Italy, where I got both my BSc and MSc degrees in Biotechnology and Pharmaceutical Biotechnologies, respectively.
During my studies I developed an interest in cutting-edge immunotherapy treatments. The MATURE-NK represented a big opportunity in this sense, and Glycostem and nice fit where I could combine studying for a PhD and working in an industrial pharmaceutical setting at the same time. Here I am busy with generating genetically modified NK cells for clinical applications.
In my free time I am a keen triathlete and you will find me either running and riding on roads or splashing in the water. When time (and energy) allows I enjoy spending time with friends, exploring new places (other than those I explore on my bike), reading, playing the piano or just chilling out on a beach or a park.”

Camille Philippon | University Hospital Oslo

“I am Camille, a PhD student in Kalle Malmberg’s group in the University of Oslo. My background is in Pharmacy with a specialization in Biotechnology and Advanced Therapy from the University of Paris. Throughout my studies, I had the opportunity to work in different research labs with passionate colleagues who have given me a taste for science. I have always been curious and wanted to understand more about human biology so working in science is really exciting every day.
In Kalle’s lab, I have learned a lot about NK cell biology and particularly about NK cell education. I have also worked with induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC) and stem cell differentiation into NK cells. Besides the sciences, while in Norway I have also improved my English, learned how to manage my projects, search for information, creatively problem-solve, communicate information, work in a multicultural environment (and knit!) – skills that will serve me in life as well as in work.”

Anna Rea | Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona

“My name is Anna Rea and I am from Italy. Presently, I am a PhD student in the Human Natural Killer Cell Biology group at the Pompeu Fabra University (UPF) premises in the Barcelona Biomedical Research Park (PRBB).
As long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by science and human body and I was curious about how our world works. As an adult, I wanted to contribute to human health and be able to help patients and improve their life quality. I will always be grateful to my science professor, as he supported and motivated me to pursue a scientific carrier. I received my Bachelor degree in Health Biotechnologies and my Master degree in Medical Biotechnologies at the Federico II University in Naples. My Master thesis work was focused on signal transduction pathways altered in glioblastoma and responsible for resistance to conventional therapies.
I became close to the immunology field upon successful completion of the Lower Saxony International Summer Academy in Immunology. The Mature-NK project has given me the opportunity to conduct my research focused on enhancing NK cell anti-tumor function in colorectal cancer in an international and highly competitive contest.
During my free time, I enjoy dancing salsa, cooking, walking around the city but also being outdoors in nature. I am always inclined to try new sports, the latest one is rollerblading.”

Anna Thaller | Institut Pasteur, Paris

“Hello, my name is Anna Thaller and I am from Germany. I studied biology and did both, my Bachelor and Master degree at the Ludwig Maximilian University (LMU) in Munich. During my master I started to get into the field of immunology through my internship at Roche Diagnostics GmbH in Penzberg and my master thesis in the group of Edgar Meinl at the Biomedical Center (BMC) in Munich.
After my studies I wanted to do an internship abroad and I was able to do a project on stem cells in the group of Thomas Graf at the Center for Genomic Regulation (CRG) in Barcelona with the ERASMUS+ program.
Following this experience, I decided to apply mainly for international PhD programs in the field of Immunology and joined the MATURE-NK international training network in January 2019 to do my PhD at the Institut Pasteur in Paris. Here, I am currently developing a pre-clinical model to study the interaction of human Natural Killer (NK) cells and Innate Lymphoid Cells (ILCs) with cancer cells in vivo.
Outside of the lab I like to do crafts, like for example pottery and wood working. Further, I enjoy sharing time with friends and doing outdoor activities, like cycling, snorkeling, hiking and skiing.”

Ronja Wieboldt | University Basel

“Hi, I am Ronja and I currently work as a PhD candidate at the University of Basel, Switzerland. I am originally from Germany and received my Master’s from the University of Marburg with a major in cancer biology. My bachelor thesis got me hooked on translational research and I enjoy working close to the clinic and patients ever since.
My PhD project aims to further investigate the potential of NK cell adoptive immunotherapy in the setting of hematopoietic cancer in an ongoing clinical trial. Thus, I already learned a lot about clinical trial conduct, GMP production and how to coordinate work efficiently. I hope that my work can help to improve our current NK production protocol so that more patients can benefit from NK cell therapies.
I like Basel a lot. It is a lively town with lots of restaurants, theatres and museums. I enjoy hiking, dancing and cooking and I am looking forward to travel again.”