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Entries in women in science (38)


Congratulations to Dr Aleksandra Brajic!

Dr Aleksandra Brajic just won the best poster award at the Center for Brain and Disease Research. Winning against such strong competition, and on a project that does not involve the brain, is a real achievement! Dr Brajic's work on the lncRNA Flatr and regulatory T cells will be published soon.



Treg plasticity

This is a great video by PhD candidate Steffie Junius, sharing what her PhD is on:

The 2018 Golden Pipette Award

Lab retreat 2018: the baton is being passed on, as Dr Oliver Burton, 2017 winner of the Golden Pipette, presents the trophy to Dr Emanuela Pasciuto. Our prestigious prize for the best experiment was awarded for the generation of a transgenic mouse to study brain Tregs.


Congratulations Dr Garcia-Perez!

Today Dr Josselyn Garcia-Perez successfully defended her PhD, and also published an outstanding first-author paper on the genetics of Multiple Sclerosis in Brain. A double congratulations to our newest alumni!


An interview with Stephanie Humblet-Baron

An interview between Dr Liesbeth Aerts and Dr Stephanie Humblet-Baron on her recent paper in JACI:


Can you summarize the significance of your findings in a few sentences for people outside your field?

Working in the field of primary immunodeficiency disorders, we described a new mouse model for severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID), recapitulating the key clinical features of SCID patients suffering of both immunodeficiency and autoimmunity (leaky SCID). Importantly our model proposed a novel efficient therapeutic approach for this disease.

What made the paper particularly outstanding?

Due to the pre-clinical evidence of a drug efficiency to treat a rare disease, patient clinical trials can be directly proposed. This treatment is already approved for human use in arthritis, so it could be rapidly be repurposed for leaky SCID patients. In addition, our model is available for further pre-clinical assay, including gene therapy.

When did you realize you were on to something interesting?

When I started to work with this model I already knew which gene was mutated (Artemis). However when I saw the mice for the first time I could tell that they were developing the exact same symptoms that we see in the clinic. I knew that other mouse models working on this gene had never seen leaky SCID symptoms, so I knew we needed to explore in depth the model. The other key moment was after treating our mice with the drug (CTLA4-Ig) – it completely blocked disease, making this a very valuable project with new therapeutic opportunities for patients.

Did the technology available at the department make a difference?

The FACS core was the major technique used for investigation this project.

A huge amount of work and energy must have gone into the paper. How did you cope with stress and doubts?

Liesbeth this is a joker question!

The project went actually quite smoothly, the hard time I got during this project was rather adjusting myself with motherhood and life in science at the same time.

What are you personally most proud of?

This work can be seen as translational medicine, with direct therapeutic benefit for the patients. The ability for better understanding the mechanism of the disease was also valuable to me.

Can you share some advice for others?

Always envision your project as a story to write and tell. When you find a new result ask what would be the next question and continue to explore it further.


Let's stop making science unwelcome to women

These are the new bathrooms installed at the University of Leuven Biomedical Sciences campus.

I kinda feel like this would be a lot funnier if KUL didn't have a 500+ year history of gender inequality. This is not a big deal compared to the long-term gender inequality in hiring at the professorial level. On the other hand, it certainly doesn't help. Like, if you are not going to fix your sexist hiring practices, the least you can do is to not actively belittle women on the biomedical science campus.


Prof Susan Schlenner: making a career in science

Next week Dr Susan Schlenner starts as a tenure-track professor in our laboratory.

Growing up in East Germany, Susan started her scientific training with Prof Hans-Reimer Rodewald at the University of Ulm. From 2003-2008, Susan worked on her PhD on protection from the toxicity of snake venoms (J Exp Med, 2007). Dr Schlenner stayed in Hans-Reimer’s lab for a mini-post-doc on T cell development, generating IL7Ra-Cre mice to trace the fate of early T cell development (Immunity, 2010). These mice have become one of the key tools of the field, leading to dozens of high-level middle authorships.

In 2009, Dr Schlenner left to Harvard, to post-doc with Prof Harald von Boehmer. At this point, she entered the regulatory T cell field, again creating new mouse strains to redefine the basic biology (J Exp Med, 2012).

We were lucky enough to recruit Susan in 2012. We had just decided that we needed a top-level molecular biologist when Susan turned up. She immediately solved our problems on a transgenic that we had been struggling with for years, and set up a molecular biology platform in the lab. Susan designed her own high-level projects, and secured independent funding for them, which she is now pursuing with her own team. However Susan has always been ready to drop everything to help out the lab, playing a pivotal role in getting our diabetes story in Nature Genetics, and spending her last days before giving birth generating the key preliminary data for an ERC grant for the lab.

When CrispR editing of mammalian cells first burst onto the scene in 2014, Dr Schlenner spend several years learning the new technique, importing all the tools to Leuven and optimising the process for high throughput genome-editing. The creation of the MutaMouse Core facility was the outcome of this patient work, and will revolutionise biomedical science in Leuven.

With Dr Schlenner achieving the hard-won honour of a professorship, I see lessons in her success that other post-docs could learn from:

1) Train with the best people. In the Rodewald and von Boehmer labs, Susan was surrounded by top scientists doing exciting work. An excellent environment is essential to blossom as a scientist

2) Learn how to do proper experiments. “Controls, controls, controls”, is Susan’s motto, every experiment needs the right controls to understand the result, otherwise it is just expensive play

3) Be prepared to work hard and work long. Experiments often don’t work; it takes grit and determination to tear the hidden secrets out from nature. To create her IL7Ra-Cre strain, Susan generated more than 3000 ES cell clones to screen, before finding the one single clone that set her career on a roll. Others would have given up early, and switched to an easier project, but Susan stayed the course. Persistence is a virtue.

4) Always keep on learning. So often we are scared to enter a field we don't know, or pick up a new technique. It is comforting to stay doing the experiments we already know how to do. Susan has always been prepared to start from scratch as a beginner, learning new techniques such as CrispR.

5) Publish top papers. Immunity and J Exp Med papers as first author, a Nature Genetics as co-last. It sounds obvious, but the top papers are the bed-rock upon which your career is built. If you ever get the opportunity to push a story into the very top level, you seize it and put in whatever effort it takes.

6) Make yourself valuable. Susan has always been a team-player, spending her time teaching others and rescuing difficult experiments. Susan always made sure that the people around her could succeed, rather than only looking out for herself. This was not just rewarded in her dozen middle-authorships, it also meant that she was always someone that her promoters were willing to support in return. Susan’s professorship is in no-small-part a direct consequence of the MutaMouse facility that she was building for the university – she made herself so valuable to the university that they needed to give her a position to make sure she stayed.

7) Stay in the game. It can be depressing looking at the odds of success in academia, but if you are not willing to put in the years, then you have no chance. Susan post-doc’d for nearly 10 years before achieving her professorship: don’t give up on your ambitions.


As seen in the Malaghan Institute, New Zealand  


Research hall of fame

"Hey, whatever happened to that really good tech you had?"

"Sad story, really, she got married".

Getting married as a woman in the 1940s - literally equivalent to career death.


Congratulations to Dr Emanuela Pasciuto

Dr Emanuela Pasciuto was successful in obtaining a highly competitive FWO post-doctoral fellowship to continue her neuroimmunology research in our laboratory.

She is a wonderful role model as a young mother who is a highly successful scientist. Congratulations Manu!