INsTRuCT Fellows

Alessia Zotta

My name is Alessia, I am 25 years old and I am italian. I started my scientific career in the city of Turin (Italy) where I obtained my bachelor’s degree (BSc) in Biotechnology. During my studies I developed a particular interest for developmental biology and immunology. Therefore, during a 6 months Erasmus+ Program in Orsay (Paris, France), I attended the master degree’s program Biology and Health at the University Paris-Sud (Paris XI), France. Furthermore, I had the chance to investigate granule cell progenitors role during cerebellar development and foliation for my university internship at Neuroscience Institute Cavalieri Ottolenghi (NICO), Turin (Italy). Thereafter, I started my master thesis’ project at the Clinical and Biological Sciences Department in Turin (Italy) for my master’s degree (MSc) in Medical Biotechnology. In the lab of Prof. Retta, I investigated the role of inflammatory and redox-sensitive mechanisms implicated in the pathogenesis of a rare genetic disease, called Cerebral Cavernous Malformations.

During my PhD I will focus on metabolic reprogramming of monocytes to macrophages differentiation by pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory metabolites. In two pathological murine models, mimicking asthma and peritonitis development, tissue resident macrophages have peculiar functions depending on their origin and the microenvironment where they reside. In particular, my project aims to uncover the effects of immunomodulatory metabolites on classical and tissue resident macrophages maturation at a cellular and molecular level in both healthy and pathological conditions, in order to gain further insight into their plasticity and possible handling for inflammatory diseases mitigation.

I think that my project could play an interesting role in the understanding and characterization of specific macrophage populations and help focusing on myeloid-regulatory cell therapy to ameliorate inflammatory pathological conditions. I am glad to be a part of INsTRuCT network because it is a great opportunity for me and the other early stage researchers to improve professionally and humanly, learning new techniques, discover novel scientific fields and collaborate through an inter-sectoral environment, thus providing and gaining new ideas for our own research topics.

Starting date: 1st August 2020

Tomislav Kostevc

I am Tomislav Kostevc and I come from Slovenia. My academic path started with Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry at the University of Ljubljana. I performed thesis work on computational search of inhibitors of Zika virus, which was an emerging pandemic at that time. Afterwards, I wanted to dive further into the biomedical field and enrolled in Master in Biomedical Research at Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona. I moved to Madrid to work on a master’s thesis at the Spanish National Cancer Research Center in the group of dr. Alejo Efeyan. I searched for functional effects of a point mutation of an RNA-binding protein frequently found in CRC patients. Ultimately, I decided for another master’s degree - in Biochemistry, in Ljubljana. My research was on CAR T cell immunotherapy at the National Institute of Chemistry under the supervision of prof.dr. Roman Jerala.

My PhD project in the group of dr. Birgit Sawitzki at Charité - University Medicine Berlin will be focused on mitochondrial and metabolic features of tolerogenic myeloid cells. We will be looking into changes of mitochondrial morphology and cell signalling with a goal to better understand the tolerogenic phenotype and help develop more stable and effective myeloid regulatory cell therapy.

Starting date: September 2020

Maria Gonzales

My name is María and I am of Spanish nationality. I started my scientific career in the city of Madrid, Spain, where I studied Health Biology. Since the very beginning of starting my degree, I had a strong interest in Biomedical research and somehow this was also due to the approach of my studies. They were very focused on laboratory work.

During my fourth and last degree year, I received a grant to study abroad at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada. Over there, I had the chance to develop my Degree thesis with PhD Ausio, about the Chromatin changes of a specific histone variant in rat new-borns, when the mother had been consuming alcohol during pregnancy. I loved it.

After that, I started my Master’s in microbiology and Infectious Diseases back in Madrid and developed my Master thesis at the University of Alcalá and The National Microbiology Center in the laboratory of PhD Ochando. I did my research about trained immunity and how this new concept could be related to organ transplantation. After this, I continued this line of research at Mount Sinai-Icahn School of Medicine in New York in order to widen my experience for 9 months. Over there we worked on an in vitro model of trained immunity using murine macrophages.

During my PhD I will focus on the development of a nanobiologic library technology to regulate trained immunity as well as evaluate the robustness of an advanced trained immunity-inhibitory nanobiologics to prevent organ transplant rejection. Also, I will test trained immunity-inhibitory drug-loaded nanobiologics as substances added to cell cultures during manufacture of MRC-based therapeutic products and for this I will also finish to develop the in vitro model of trained immunity in mice. All this future research could not only potentially treat transplant patients but also autoimmune disorders and allergies.

Starting date: June/July 2020 (depending on the alarm state of the country)

Ayesha Sahar

My name is Ayesha Sahar and I was born in Pakistan. I started my scientific career in 2013 while studying computer engineering from University of Engineering and Technology(UET), Lahore, Pakistan. I developed a passion for Data Science particularly in the Biomedical field when I got selected for a fully funded summer internship in DFKI, kaiserslautern, Germany. Therefore, I decided to further pursue my career in data science and went for masters in CS in Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), South korea. During this time, I was involved in many projects related to extracting useful insights by using data science with the Human data.

During my PhD, I will work towards providing an innovative solution for predicting the immune regulatory effects of tolerogenic MRC-based products by creating an integrated, big data set scale through standardisation and data warehousing.

Starting date: 1st September 2020

Maaike Suuring

Hello, my name is Maaike Suuring, and I am of Dutch nationality. My career in science started with a study in microbiology, where I learned about immunology at the virology department of the National Institute for Public Health and Environment. Due to this experience, I continued my career path with a BA in bioresearch at Inholland. In these years, I expanded my knowledge in different fields of research, where I focused on vitamin B6 deficiency at the metabolomics department of Professor Verhoeven-Duif at the University Medical Centre of Utrecht.

After finishing my internship, I knew that I wanted to start the double degree program in biomedical science at Maastricht University, where I had the opportunity to study for one year abroad in Japan. My first internship at Maastricht University was at the toxicology and pharmacology department, where I focused on advanced glycation end products provoking inflammatory responses in the intestinal tract. I realised by then that my main interest in research lies within the field of immunology. That is why I decided, for my final thesis, to conduct a study at the immunology department of Professor Mazda at the Kyoto Prefectural University of Medicine. There I had the chance to study direct reprogramming fibroblasts into myoblasts using plasmids encoded with genetic transcription factors.

I am looking forward to continuing my aspirations of immunology with my doctoral study at the University of Nantes. I will focus on the molecular mechanisms of the human autologous tolerogenic dendritic cell. The project aims to examine the phenotypic and functional heterogeneity of autologous tolerogenic dendritic cells. It will provide insights into the molecular mechanisms of ATDC action, which will be developed, standardised and clinically validated in an innovative test for ATDC pharmacodynamic effects.

Starting date: 1st September 2020

Zahra Nozari

My name is Zahra Nozari. My nationality is Iranian. I received my Bachelor’s degree in Physics from Kharazmi University, Tehran, Iran. I become really interested in mathematical Physics during my studies, this led me to continue my education in theoretical Physics. I studied my master’s degree at Alzahra University, Tehran, Iran. I worked on the ''Relativistic Gravitational Interaction between Point Particles'' for my MSc thesis.

As a theoretical physics student, I have always been very eager to work on mathematical aspects of different projects as well as data analysis and know how mathematics influences us to think differently about issues. Now, I am going to do my PhD in Computational Biology at University Hospital Regensburg. During my PhD I will focus on Computational characterization, classification and deconvolution of myeloid regulatory cells. This project deals with enhancing our understanding of differentiation routes, transcriptional and epigenetic features of MRCs in both vitro and vivo to optimize tolerogenic cell products.

Starting date: 1st September 2020

Frederik Radvan

I grew up in Northern Germany, where I also attended university for my undergraduate degree. To complement my education at Jacobs University Bremen (GER) in “Biochemistry and Cell Biology”, I spent an Erasmus exchange semester at the University of Aberdeen (UK). Upon completion of my Bachelor‘s programme, I started specialising in Immunology by attending an international summer academy at the Medical School Hanover (GER). Afterwards I undertook my Master studies in “Immunology and Immunotherapy” at the University of Birmingham (UK). In my thesis at the Institute of Inflammation and Ageing, I dealt with the lactate metabolism of CD4+ T cells and its contribution to inflammatory diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis.

Through my placement at CiMaas B.V. (NL), I will have the opportunity to optimise quality control assays for cell therapy products, with a particular focus on (tolerogenic) dendritic cells (DC) and regulatory macrophages. Next to that, I will study the MHC class II presentation of DC to CD4+ T cells. I am excited to be part of the INsTRuCT consortium and CiMaas B.V., because of the unique opportunity to gain early insights into industrial R&D and to build up an international network for a future career in the rapidly expanding field of cell therapy.

Starting date: 18th May 2020

Jorge Torres

My name is Jorge Torres-Yaguana and I am of Ecuadorian nationality. I started my scientific career in the city of Loja, Ecuador where I got my bachelor in Biochemistry & Pharmacy. During that time, I felt passionate for the biomedical research focused on the cancer biology, medicinal chemistry, and molecular pathology. Therefore, I did a contribution in the study of the human papillomavirus high-risk genotypes in the southern region of Ecuador associated with cervical cancer in women. In order to face new challenges, I had the opportunity to travel and study for a semester in the Biotechnology degree at the Polytechnic University of Madrid, Spain. This first awesome experience allowed me to confirm my orientation for the immunology research. After my graduation, I raised my lab experience working on short research internships at the Genetics and Genomics Investigation Centre (UTE University) and the Laboratory of Health and Research (San Francisco University of Quito), two of the most outstanding research centres from Ecuador in cancer and regenerative medicine.

Thereafter, I started my Master studies in Advanced Immunology at the Barcelona University. My master project was developed at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) in the Malaria Immunology Group headed by prof. Carlota Dobaño. Here I investigated the role of the natural acquired immunity in the vaccines efficacy and protection. To elucidate our questions, I carried out the study of IgG responses against pre-erythrocytic and erythrocytic stage antigens of P. falciparum in children from endemic regions to malaria, who received the RTS,S/AS01E vaccine. In this lab, I gained expertise in the antigens coupling to microspheres to measure the antigen-antibody interactions by multiplex assays using the innovative technology of Luminex as well as my introduction to bioinformatics tools.

During my PhD, I will focus on the development of a highly personalised approach based on surrogate immunological biomarkers to assess tolerance induction in order to implement direct treatments by T regulatory (Treg) cell-based therapies, according to patient’s individual needs in liver and kidney transplant recipients.

Starting date: September 2020

Christine Kreher

My name is Christine Kreher and I am from Germany. I received my bachelor degree in Biochemistry at the University of Leipzig (Germany). Afterwards, I focused my master studies on medical biochemistry due to my growing interest in immunology. In this regard, I conducted a research project at Aarhus University analysing the antiviral activities of human interferon-λ1 and -λ3 as part of an Erasmus exchange. In 2019, I finished my master thesis investigating the function of GPCRs in human mucosal associated invariant T cells (MAIT) by flow cytometry and global proteomics at the Helmholtz-Centre for Environmental Research in Leipzig. I continued this project as a research assistant to analyse GPCR-regulated proliferation and migration of MAIT cells.

During my Ph.D. as ESR10, I will focus on the establishment of validated assays for T and B cell responses against disease relevant antigens to analyse the immunological efficacy of tolerance-inducing myeloid regulatory cell therapy. Therefore, I will take part in the development and production of peptide-specific MHCII multimers to isolate antigen-specific CD4+ T cells and analyse their responses via TCR sequencing and single cell RNA sequencing. In addition, I will work on standardisation of further assays to monitor antigen-specific B and T cell responses, which are ELISPOT and proliferation based assays, respectively. The project allows me to learn new laboratory techniques, strengthen my knowledge in data analysis and get insight in various fields of immunomonitoring.

I believe that the INsTRuCT programme offers a great network of experienced researchers in the field of cell therapy including collaborations, constructive scientific exchanges and training seminars.

Starting date: 15th May 2020

Sara Tekavec

My name is Sara and I am from Slovenia. I started my scientific career at the University of Ljubljana by obtaining a bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry. I was eager to become actively involved in scientific research from an early stage. Part of my practical experience include an internship at the Centre for Functional Genomics and Bio-chips, where I later completed my BSc thesis about the role of lipoproteins on endoplasmic reticulum and metabolic stress in cardiomyocytes. Due to my desire to gain international experience I also completed an internship at the Hans Knöll Institute – Universitätsklinikum Jena in Jena, Germany, where I was involved in a project concerning the role of glucocorticoid receptors in inflammation. In order to broaden my horizon and gain knowledge in the field of pharmacy, I enrolled in a master’s degree program in Industrial Pharmacy. My MSc thesis focused on the development of new compounds and their effect on the modulatory activity of TLR8 in autoimmune diseases.

My PhD research will focus on the development of an affordable and scalable process for tol-DC manufacturing. In particular, the project aims to identify biological factors contributing to the optimal micro-environment for tol-DC generation and to engineer 4D environments that will ensure product consistency, quality, reproducibility and robustness of tol-DC manufacturing process. My basic science skills together with my industrial perspective will, in my opinion, greatly assist me in pursuing this project.

Starting date: 3rd August 2020

Wouter-Michiel Vierdag

Name: Wouter-Michiel Vierdag
Host organization: Miltenyi Biotec B.V. & Co. KG
Project title: Classification of the human Myeloid Regulatory Network using Machine Learning on Multiparametric Immunofluorescence Image Data

I obtained my bachelor’s degree in Medicine and my master’s degree in Biomedical Science with a major in pathobiology at the Radboud University Nijmegen, The Netherlands. During my master I developed an interest in bioinformatics. I dived into the world of machine learning and its application in medicine. This interest ultimately led to a master thesis in which I focused on the generation of synthetic medical image data and their usage for training machine learning models. I completed this thesis under supervision of Prof. Dr. P.B. ‘t Hoen and Prof. Dr. T.M. Heskes of the Center of Molecular and Biomolecular Informatics and Institute for Computing and Information Sciences at the Radboud University.

At Miltenyi Biotec I am working on the application of machine learning algorithms on images obtained with the MACSima™ immunofluorescence imaging platform. The aim is to precisely define and characterize the myeloid regulatory cell network within context of tissue. This should provide valuable knowledge for the development and application of cellular therapies based on myeloid regulatory cells in cancer and autoimmune disease.

Starting date: 1st May 2020

Federico Fondelli

My name is Federico Fondelli and I am native of Florence, Italy, where I got my bachelor and master degree in Biology. Moreover, during my master degree, I participated in the Erasmus+ program and spent a semester at the Université Pierre et Marie Curie in Paris, France. After my graduation, I developed a strong interest in immunology and decided to make a significant experience in this field. Thus, I applied for a EURES scholarship and started to work in Prof. Tao Dong lab at the MRC Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine at the University of Oxford, UK, on a project aimed at the establishment of an in vitro platform to assess the effect of bispecific antibodies targeting immune checkpoint receptors on T-cell functionality against cancer cells. Then, after the end of this project, I worked as Research Fellow at Ospedale San Raffaele in Milano, Italy, in Dr. Giulia Casorati & Dr. Paolo Dellabona unit, where I investigated the phenotype of T cells obtained from patients with rheumatoid arthritis and iNKT-cell exhaustion in the cancer microenvironment using in vivo models.

During my PhD I will focus on the characterisation of the genes and pathways behind the tolerogenic activity of VitD3-TolDC and on to the evaluation of the pharmacodynamic effects of tolDC-VitD3 treatment in patients with multiple sclerosis enrolled in a clinical trial.

What I like: Flow Cytometry and other single-cell technologies, playing drums and synthesizers.

Starting date: 31st August 2020

Laura Cordero

My name is Laura Cordero Jordà and I was born in Barcelona, Spain. I hold a BSc degree in Biomedical Sciences and a MSc degree in Advanced Immunology from the University of Barcelona.

My interest in human health stems from my high school studies. During that time, I was very lucky to have inspiring teachers that unlocked the doors of human biology world. This fuelled my interest in the topic and encouraged me to pursue a BSc degree in Biomedical Sciences.

During my bachelor’s studies I was captivated by cancer biology and immunology. Therefore, during my Erasmus+ exchange at the University of Manchester I joined Dr. Jason Bruce’s to perform my final degree thesis. The aim of the project was to characterize the glycolytic enzyme PKM2, which has been proposed to be impaired in pancreatic cancer. The main purpose was to manipulate the expression of PKM2 to study its effect on cancer hallmarks, metabolic phenotype and PMCA activity in pancreatic cancer cells. Undoubtedly, my research stay abroad was an extremely enriching experience since it allowed me to work in an international context.

However, little by little I became more curious about immunology. For this reason, I decided to study a MSc in Advanced Immunology. I performed my master’s thesis at Dr. Pere Santamaria’s laboratory. My project was focused on constructing and screening a peptide-MHC class II library against the disease-relevant diabetogenic TCR (4.1-TCR) to determine important amino-acidic residues to generate a superagonist in the context of I-Ab.

Realizing about our capacity to manipulate our body’s defence system in our favour has been eye-opener. In particular, the study of immune regulatory cells for cell-based therapies fascinates me. Applying this promising approach to such a challenging topic as solid organ transplantation, characterized by a lack of alternatives to immunosuppressive drugs and non-existing personalized immunosuppression, triggers my scientific curiosity. This is why I decided to apply to the position “ESR14 Therapeutic Targeting of Mreg - T cell Interactions” at Dr. Hutchinson’s laboratory.

Administration of human regulatory macrophages (Mreg) has already shown early clinical promise as an adjunct immunosuppressive cell-based therapy in solid organ transplantation. My PhD will consist on characterizing the regulation of recipient T (miTreg) cells immunity by administered donor human regulatory macrophages. Finding substances that affect miTreg generation and the contribution of Mreg and miTreg genes will be the first step. Their pharmacological effects will then be tested in a human-into-mouse reconstitution model of human Mreg-driven allogeneic Treg conversion. The long-term goal of the project is to find novel insights into the suppressor functions of Mregs and promising agents that enhance or repress miTreg generation to develop new clinical strategies.

On the whole, I am thrilled to join the INsTRuCT consortium and I strongly believe that becoming part of this stimulating international network will be an enriching experience both personally and professionally.

Starting date: 1st September 2020

Ioana Nicorescu

My name is Ioana Nicorescu and I was born in Romania. I moved to Italy at the age of 13 and have lived there for more than 10 years. My scientific journey began at the university of Pavia, Italy, where I studied Biotechnology. Willing to expand my horizons and my research skills, I further pursued an MSc in Medical Biotechnology at the University of Wageningen, The Netherlands, ranked the greenest and most sustainable university in the world. Many courses included teamwork projects and practical lab research, which helped me orient my interests towards immunological research. During my master thesis I focused on Baculoviruses, insect viruses that parasite Lepidopteran pests, responsible for massive crop damages. I studied how this virus family can preferentially induce apoptosis in the host’s immune cells and control its behavior. I concluded my MSc with an internship at Janssen Pharmaceutica, Belgium, where I investigated the T-cell transcriptional landscape of HIV infected patients. Subsequently, I spent one year at the AMC, Amsterdam, the Netherlands, where I studied inflammation in cardiovascular diseases. After having worked in oncological research for two years as an Associate Scientist (Janssen Pharmaceutica, Belgium), I will continue my scientific journey at Newcastle University, U.K.

During my PhD I will learn more about tolerogenic dendritic cell (tolDC) therapies in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Following a completed phase I clinical trial where toldDC safety was proven, I will investigate the distribution of labelled tolDC and their immunomodulatory capacities after injection. For this purpose, I will first perform in vitro research to establish protocols for monitoring immune responses, as well as phenotypical and functional assays on tolDC to improve their survival upon administration.

I look forward to enriching my scientific and personal experience within the INsTRuCT network, along with collaborating with many other talented scientists. I believe this fellowship will allow us to contribute to cutting-edge research in the context of myeloid regulatory cell therapies and enhance current knowledge.

Starting date: 1st September 2020