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It is a diagnosis with devastating consequences. Alzheimer’s is a nightmare, both for the patients themselves and for their families. Neurological diseases of this kind have a radical impact on their lives, and to this day there is no chance of a cure. Modified proteins in the body’s cells are partly responsible for many terrible diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia. Proteins move very dynamically in healthy cells, but clump together in diseased cells, impairing cell function. As a result, patients gradually lose their cognitive and motor skills.
How do neurodegenerative disorders come about?
This entire process is extremely complex and far from exhaustively researched. Numerous scientists all over the world are exploring how neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and ALS come about and exactly which processes take place in the body. One of these researchers is Dr Hyun Kate Lee. Originally from South Korea, she has been working as a postdoc at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG) in Dresden since 2011. “In my research work I am exploring what causes proteins to clump together in cells”, explains Kate. One of her most important tools are specialised imaging techniques, including for example special microscopes that can produce high resolution images of the proteins. “Here at the MPI-CBG we can even make real-time movies – high-resolution films of very good quality. We use them to observe processes in the cells as they actually take place.”
A conscious choice to work in Europe
The Dresden-based MPI’s considerable expertise in imaging was one major reason why Kate – who is now 35 – decided in 2011 to move to Germany. “The infrastructure here at the MPI is unique and allows me to conduct research at the highest level.” She graduated with a degree in molecular biology in the USA, which is also where she took her doctorate. “After my PhD I wanted to immerse myself in a new world, get to know a new culture and test out a new research environment. My destination of choice was a country in Europe”, remembers Kate.
Interdisciplinary and international exchange
The young researcher perused various publications and other sources in search of a scientific institution that would be a particularly good fit for her, as well as one that produces outstanding work. “I kept coming across the MPI-CBG. So I applied – and was accepted.” It was not only the non-university research institution’s good reputation that interested Kate, but also the opportunity it presented to pursue interdisciplinary work. “That is precisely what I found here: we engage in an exchange with colleagues in many different disciplines, also on an international basis. This seems to be very characteristic of the German research landscape.” The molecular biologist also notes that there is “great enthusiasm” in research, and appreciates the extensive scientific funding that is provided by the state. “What is more, the MPI-CBG supports me in my career planning. Career-oriented workshops are held frequently, often involving top-class researchers from all over the world.”
Interesting options for young researchers
Young researchers can also find good conditions for studying biology at many German universities. In studies like the CHE Ranking, the following universities for example score particularly well:
- Jacobs University Bremen
- Technische Universität Braunschweig
- Technische Universität Dresden
- Universität Hohenheim
- Universität zu Lübeck
Other institutions offering special PhD programmes also provide young researchers with optimal support and supervision throughout their research work. The following is a selection of graduate schools and other institutions in the field of molecular biology:
- Fraunhofer Institute for Cell Therapy and Immunology (IZI)
- Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology (IME)
- Helmholtz Graduate School for Macromolecular Bioscience
- International Max Planck Research School for Cell, Developmental and Systems Biology
- International Max Planck Research School for Chemical Biology
- International Max Planck Research School for Environmental, Cellular and Molecular Microbiology
- International Max Planck Research School for Molecular and Cellular Life Sciences
- International Max Planck Research School for Molecular Biology
- International Leibniz Research School for Microbial and Biomolecular Interactions
- Leibniz Graduate School of Molecular Biophysics
- Leibniz Institute for Molecular Pharmacology
- Max Planck Institute for Biology of Ageing
- Max Planck Institute for Molecular Biomedicine
- Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics
- Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine
Young researchers always benefit if they receive good support from their research institution – as Kate knows from personal experience. In March 2017, she was awarded the L’Oréal/UNESCO science fellowship "International Rising Talents" for her outstanding research work. "That was a great honour for me, and meeting renowned top-class researchers at the award ceremony in Paris was a wonderful experience", says Kate, who believes that programmes like this are very important. "This kind of award provides huge motivation and really spurs one on", she explains. It will enable her to get a bit closer to achieving her goal of better understanding neurodegenerative disorders. "One day, we hope that this will result in possible treatments" – that is her great wish for the future.