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Gintvile Valinciute's dream was always to study one day at a high-level university with an international orientation. As soon as she left school, the young Lithuanian yearned to go abroad. Initially, however, she stayed at home to do her bachelor's degree. As a first step, she spent a semester in Sweden as an exchange student. This was when the 26-year-old decided once and for all that she would go abroad to do her master's.
Cancer research in Heidelberg
Today Gintvile Valinciute lives in Heidelberg, where she is a doctoral student at the newly-founded Hopp Pediatric Tumor Center (only in German) at the National Center for Tumor Diseases (NCT) Heidelberg. The facility is jointly run by Heidelberg University Hospital and the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ). The young scientist knew early on that she wanted to work in the field of cancer. Taught in English, her master's degree in Molecular Biosciences at Heidelberg University allowed her to choose Cancer Biology as her main subject. After graduating, she applied to the DKFZ's Helmholtz International Graduate School for Cancer Research. "I also looked at other European PhD programmes, but the one here in Heidelberg enabled me to pursue exactly the research that interests me", she explains. Twice a year, around 750 university graduates apply for 18 PhD places at the graduate school. Gintvile received one of the coveted few.
Searching for a new drug combination
The subject of her PhD thesis research is in the field of clinical epigenetics and has great societal relevance. Gintvile is researching protein complexes that occur in the cells of the medulloblastoma, a malign brain tumour. The tumour primarily affects young children. To date, such tumours have tended to be treated using conventional methods – radiation therapy, chemotherapy and surgery. If Gintvile and her colleagues are able to decode the protein complex, new treatment methods could be developed. "I am currently trying to find a combination of drugs that could be used to successfully combat the cancer cells." If such targeted cancer therapy were available, the children affected would suffer far fewer negative side effects. "I really hope that our research will contribute to helping children. That is a big incentive for me", stresses Gintvile.
Nobel Laureate Meeting in Lindau
Her passion for cancer research was also enough to convince the organisers of the 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, which was held at Lake Constance in late June 2018 and saw 39 laureates meet with 600 young researchers. Gintvile had successfully applied to attend the event. "I had already discovered during my bachelor's degree how inspiring it can be to meet and share ideas with world-class researchers in Lindau." Back then, Gintvile's attention had been drawn to the meeting by one of her lecturers, who showed the students a video of the event – Gintvile made up her mind then and there: "I swore to myself that I would also attend the meeting one day!" And this year she finally has. Besides expert discussions and lectures, Gintvile also took part in a small group meeting with the Swedish cancer researcher Tomas Lindahl, who had been awarded the 2015 Nobel Prize in chemistry. "He has done a lot of work in epigenetics, the research area I am also most interested in." Gintvile already knew what she would ask him long before the meeting: "How do entirely new ideas and approaches come about, and how is a scientific discovery made?" This is a question that has been preoccupying her for some time, she explains, and finally she has received some inspiring answers from the group of Nobel laureates.
Various options for young researchers
Students and young researchers will find good conditions for studying medicine at German universities. According to studies like the CHE Ranking, the following universities in particular are outstanding:
German Centres for Health Research (DZG)
With more than 100 participating universities, university hospitals and non-university research institutions, the DZG focus on six main areas of research at more than 80 sites: these are reflected in the German Center for Infection Research (DZIF), the German Centre for Cardiovascular Research (DZHK), the German Center for Lung Research (DZL), the German Cancer Consortium (DKTK), the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE) and the German Center for Diabetes Research (DZD). In the individual centres, scientists from university and non-university research institutions work together on an interdisciplinary basis with a view to translating research findings more quickly into practical applications. They offer young medical experts a wide range of research opportunities.www.bmbf.de > German Centres for Health Research