Photo:

Luisa Ostertag

Extracting more and more plasma samples ... and being sorry to see Sian leave.

Favourite Thing: To look at samples from real humans and see what is or happens inside is so fantastic! I am a really curious person and normally very happy to get and interpret any results (except when they show me that the machine is broken …) – I just want to KNOW what’s going on! And I really love to take blood samples!

My CV

School:

56. Primary School, Dresden, Germany, 1991-1994; Primary School, Elsterberg, Germany, 1994-1995; Goethe-Gymnasium (that’s comparable to Grammar School), Reichenbach/ Vogtland, Germany, 1995-2003

University:

2003-2006: Martin-Luther-University, Halle/ Saale, Germany, Biochemistry; 2006-2007: University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, UK, Biochemistry/ Genetics

Work History:

For a lawyer and a Lamination and Coating company (summer jobs in Germany), as a student assistant at the Leibniz Institute of Plant Biochemistry, Halle/ Saale, Germany

Employer:

University of Aberdeen, Rowett Institute of Nutrition & Health, Aberdeen, UK + Institute of Food Research, Norwich, UK

Current Job:

PhD student

Me and my work

I try to find out how eating different kinds of foods, epsecially dark chocolate, can influence someone’s risk of getting cardiovascular disease (things like heart attacks, strokes etc.).

That’s what I try to do: http://www.gocomics.com/nonsequitur/2010/04/22/   ;o)

Okay, more specifically I am interested in so-called polyphenols – these are compounds you will find in all kinds of plants. We humans eat/ drink quite a lot of plants (fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices, tea, wine, coffee, fruit juices, cocoa/ chocolate) and all of those contain more or less polyphenols. You know, if you eat your greens you will be healthier! (Especially as you grow older you will be less likely to develop heart disease.) One of the reasons for this might be that most plants we eat are quite rich in those polyphenols.

Now something about heart disease: One of the things that happens during the development of heart disease is that the smallest kind of blood cells, called platelets, get ‘sticky’ over time and at some point are so sticky that they will start sticking together and this leads to the formation of a blood clot hanging on the wall of a blood vessel. In the worst case the flow of your blood will be so strong that the blood clot will detach from the vessel wall and flow within the blood. This way it will at some point reach blood vessels, which are too small for it to fit through, it will block them and no more fresh blood, transporting oxygen to this vessel, will be able to pass through. And you know if you don’t have enough oxygen you will die and this is exactly what happens around the blood vessel. All the cells which depend on the oxygen from this small vessel will die. If this happens around the heart, you will have a heart attack, if it happens in your brain, it’s called a stroke.

But there’s good news because scientists have known for quite a while now that some of those polyphenols make platelets less sticky. Polyphenols from cocoa seem to be especially effective. The main food we eat on a daily base and which contains loads of cocoa is, yes, chocolate (the darker it is the more cocoa it contains). So I am interested in how eating very dark chocolate influences the behaviour of human platelets and I also really want to find out how that works. So I had some volunteers eating dark chocolate for me and sampled some platelets from them afterwards to look if they have changed. We also use some fancy methods (‘metabolomics’) looking at what generally happens in blood and urine after eating the dark chocolate.

Our aim is surely to give a recommendation in the end to tell people how much (don’t get too excited here, it’s probably just 2 pieces or so) dark chocolate they would have to eat to be less likely for getting heart disease but I think we have a long way to go until we can do this.

 

My Typical Day

That’s the great thing about being a scientist: almost every day is different!

Mmh, okay there are days when I get blood samples and then I go to the lab and do different kinds of tests on them to look at the behaviour of the platelets. Sometimes I can take those blood samples myself, sometimes a nurse will do it.

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On other days I might do some lab work involving the plasma and urine we have obtained from our volunteers, I will prepare them in a way so we can analyse them using different machines (for example a mass spectrometre, or a Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) instrument).

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My samples waiting to be analysed in a BIG magnet (the silver thing on the right) – that’s called NMR spectroscopy and can tell you about almost all compounds you can find in urine or plasma!

Some days you will just see me in front of my computer all day, writing emails to volunteers, writing about my science, analysing data in big big excel files, preparing presentations for a meeting … And of course sometimes I also have to read articles about what other people in my field are doing.

Or everything can be mixed up in one day, lab work and data anlysis and writing … So it’s pretty cool and exciting!

Evenings are mainly reserved for doing some sports: I love climbing and do that about twice a week (unfortunately mainly indoors), swimming, and soemtimes I go for a jog (I love to run in good weather (not too warm) just follwoing the beats of the music.)

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What I'd do with the money

Give it to Aberdonian 6th grade students so they can do more exciting science projects.

6th grade science students in Scotland have to do a science project for a few weeks and write a report about it, which will be marked and contribute to their final mark. The schools normally have a repertoir of ‘standard experiments’ that students can do. These are mostly quite boring but they don’t need a lot of equipment and are cheap. Students are also encouraged to come up with ideas of their own but often the equipment needed to realise those ideas is not available to the schools. So I would like to encourage students from next year’s 6th grade (because the experiments run between October and April of the following year) to think up cool projects and then support the 5 best ones with 100 Pounds each so they can buy the equipment needed for their experiments.

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Dedicated, honest, and outdoor-loving!

Who is your favourite singer or band?

At the moment (Sorry!): Lena Meyer-Landrut, the German Eurovision Song Contest candidate (and winner! :o) – although her English accent is quite bad … Normally I like 70ies/ 80ies rock quite a lot and music that’s just fun!

What is the most fun thing you've done?

Diving in the Red Sea

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

Finish my PhD okay; Stay healthy and happy for a long time with my partner and some kids; Travel around the whole world!!!

What did you want to be after you left school?

I was always a bit split between wanting to be a scientist and wanting to be a surgeon.

Were you ever in trouble at school?

Yes, but not seriously. I was a good girl. ;o)

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

Managed to run a human study on my own.

Tell us a joke.

Waaah! I am so bad at this! I’ll try: Plump lady to the waitress: I’d like Death by Chocolate for dessert, but only enough to put me in critical condition. HA HA HA HA! ;o)