Here we learn more about her award-winning career:
Why did you choose cardiovascular research?
I began studying blood cells as an undergraduate. Subsequently, endothelial cells gained my interest because of their role in inflammation and I became immersed in the cardiovascular field. I then jumped at the chance to join the Molecular Cardiology Department at the University of Frankfurt as it offered the opportunity to combine my basic science with the clinical setting. Since then, I have spent my career trying to understand the basic mechanisms underlying cardiovascular disease and vessel growth, and we are trying to develop new cellular and pharmacological therapies – it’s very rewarding!
What are your main career achievements to date?
I am proud that I have been able to contribute to the field of vascular biology and the quest to preserve vascular function. One of my main career achievements involved the investigation of mechanisms by which endothelial cells respond to flow and the discovery of a pathway that controls nitric oxide synthesis. Subsequently, we have made progress in understanding vascular growth, including how endothelial cells and vessels are formed. More recently, we have been working on noncoding RNAs. I am proud that we have now reached the stage where we are testing microRNA inhibitors that promote vascular function in large-animal models and in phase 1 clinical trials.
What challenges lie ahead?
In recent years, various effective cardiovascular medications have been developed, but still there are many patients in need of additional therapies. I think we should focus on using more selective therapeutics in well-defined cohorts that have specific dysfunctions. Without these personalised stratifications, we could treat large cohorts of patients and miss treatment benefits due to heterogeneity.
The heterogeneity of humans also makes discoveries rather challenging. We do a lot of our work in experimental models, where the animals are homogeneous. In patients, we have different genetics, different histories and the varying impact of age, lifestyle factors, etc. These factors make it more complicated for basic scientists to make discoveries that can later succeed in the clinic, but the challenge of translation is something that we have to overcome.
What advice would you give to young researchers?
I think it is important that young people follow what they love to do. You really do need a lot of enthusiasm to sustain a long career in science – it takes a great deal of effort and if you are not fascinated by your field, then it’s hard. If you enjoy your research, then the motivation is there and from that, success will likely come. In my career, I have profited a lot from my environment – I have had many great mentors, students and post-docs. It’s also about having some good ideas, working hard and having a bit of luck!