Women in the NCCR AntiResist

Celebrating women in the NCCR AntiResist

AntiResist is especially focused on promoting gender balance and supporting female scientists in the workplace, in their career paths and at conferences and events. These are some of the women at the NCCR AntiResist we are celebrating.

image of 5 women from NCCRWomen video series

#NCCRWomen Video Series

To celebrate Women's Day 2021 and the 50th Anniversary of women's right to vote in Switzerland, we collaborated with our sister NCCRs across the country to launch the #NCCRWomen campaign. It began with a series of videos showcasing women working in science across all of the Swiss National Centers for Competence in Research. The week of October 11-15 , 2021 highlighted female scientists at NCCR AntiResistNina Khanna, Vishwachi Tripathi, Ikram Salah, Valentina Cappelletti and Julia Boos.  You can watch the videos on YouTube or Instagram. Watch, share and be inspired! 

Maria Elisenda Alaball NCCR Women

Meet Maria-Elisenda Alaball Pujol, PhD Candidate

Maria-Elisenda is a PhD candidate in the van Nimwegen group at the Biozentrum, University of Basel. Her research project is about quantifying the responses to antibiotic compounds at the single cell level using microfluidic devices. These are hand size chips with channels or chambers were fluids and gases can flow at a very small scale, in the range of micro- or nanometers. Because microfluidics work on such a small scale, the interactions between bacteria and antibiotics can be observed and manipulated. For her project, Maria-Elisenda is both creating new microfluidic designs in order to test several antibiotics and bacterial strains at the same time, and performing microfluidic experiments. In the experiments, she exposes bacterial Escherichia coli (E. coli) cells to antibiotic treatments, acquires time-lapse microscopy images and then she analyses these images to extract single-cell information. Maria-Elisenda can then analyse this data and quantify how cells respond to the treatments and if their physiological and gene expression state before, during and after the treatment gives information about whether a cell will survive the treatment or not. The goal is to better understand why antibiotics are not always effective against disease, in this case E. coli infection.

Maria-Elisenda was born in Barcelona, Spain, where she did her undergraduate studies in Biomedical Engineering at Universitat Pompeu Fabra. In her third year, she became interested in Synthetic Biology, and did an internship and her bachelor’s thesis in Parc de Recerca Biomèdica de Barcelona (PRBB). She then moved to London to do an MRes degree in Systems and Synthetic Biology where she did her thesis research at the London Institute of Medical Sciences (LMS).

Since she was little, Maria-Elisenda loved both science and art. While she decided to pursue a scientific career, outside of work she likes to continue painting, singing, and taking photographs, both digital and film. She also loves travelling and discovering new places and cultures, and she speaks Catalan, Spanish, English, a bit of French and is studying German.

Read Maria-Elisenda's full interview here.

Maria Vittoria Mazzuoli NCCRWomen photo

Meet Maria Vittoria Mazzuoli, Postdoctoral Researcher

Maria Vittoria is a postdoctoral fellow in the "Synthetic and system biology" laboratory of Prof. Jan-Willem Veening at the University of Lausanne. Her research focuses on the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus, one of the major causes of infectious diseases worldwide. She aims to highlight the genetic requirements and unexplored mechanisms used by this bacterium to infect and survive in the host. Understanding these mechanisms will bring useful knowledge to the treatment of this pathogen, which has been challenged in the past years by the spread of strains resistant to various classes of antibiotics.

Maria Vittoria was born in a small town in the very heart of Italy. Her higher education path in Genetics and Molecular Biology started in Rome, and then moved between universities in Rome and Paris. During university studies, she became extremely intrigued by the bacterial world.  These very small (-micro!) living organisms with fascinating abilities have a major impact on our everyday life. To learn more about bacteria, Maria Vittoria went to the Pasteur Institute in Paris, where she conducted her master’s research and earned her PhD there, as well. Surrounded by some of the most renowned scientist in the microbial world, she became more and more intrigued by this science. Maria Vittoria first investigated the mechanisms of plasmid replication in Vibrio cholerae, and later during her PhD, the regulation of virulence mechanisms in the opportunistic pathogen Streptococcus agalactiae.

Read Maria Vittoria's full interview here.

Mara Esposito NCCRWomen photo

Meet Mara Esposito, Postdoctoral Researcher

Mara is a postdoc working in the Infection Biology Research Area, Biozentrum, University of Basel. As part of the NCCR AntiResist Project, she works as a cell and molecular biologist studying host-pathogen interaction in the context of the human disease Brucellosis to find better antibiotic therapies. Human Brucellosis is a zoonosis, meaning it is a disease that was transferred from animals to humans, and it especially effects low-income countries. This disease is caused by the bacteria Brucella spp and can be transmitted through the air, which makes it very contagious. Because of this, Mara works in a Biosafety level 3 (BSL3) laboratory, which has special safety features and restricted access. During a typical day, she works in the BSL3 laboratory analysing patient samples received from collaborators in Israel and developing new in vitro models that recapitulate frequent antibiotic failure in Brucelllosis. The goal is to find out why antibiotics do not always work against this disease so that new treatment approaches can be developed.

Mara is originally from Agrano, a small village in northern Italy, surrounded by the Alps and beautiful Lake Orta. Although she has travelled a lot for her training and career, Agrano remains the most special and inspiring place for her because of its incredible nature and her family, who still live there.

She began her career path studying for a BSc degree in Industrial Biotechnology at the University of Milano-Bicocca, Italy. Mara then worked as a technician for one year in the cell and molecular biology department in a company where she gained expertise and a passion for human cell biology.

Mara returned to the University of Milano-Bicocca to earn a MSc in Molecular Biology. During this time, she received funding to spend a year in Paris to work on her master thesis, which focused on studying human lung diseases at the Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA). Although she was working on human samples, the lab mainly worked on mice models. Mara quickly realized that the science she is interested in would never involve animal experiments. This research exchange helped Mara to both strengthen her character, since it was her first experience living abroad, and to define the direction of her career in human science.

Together with her husband, Mara moved to Brussels, Belgium, where she earned her PhD in understanding the molecular mechanisms involved in cell cycle regulation and cancer development in humans.

Read Mara's full interview here.

Meet Petra Dittrich, Professor

Petra is Professor for Bioanalytics at the Department of Biosystems Science and Engineering, ETH ZĂĽrich. She develops microfluidic devices for bioanalytical and diagnostic applications. These devices are hand size chips with channels or chambers were fluids and gases can flow at a very small scale, in the range of micro- or nanometers. Because chambers are so small, the  microfluidic devices are extremely sensitive to dust and need to be produced in a special room called a “Cleanroom”. In Petra’s lab these devices are used to study single cells and conduct chemical experiments or, for the AntiResist Project, to observe the interaction of antibiotics on bacteria.

Petra was born and raised in Lingen (Ems), a small town in the Northwest of Germany. She studied Chemistry at Bielefeld University (Germany) and Universidad de Salamanca (Spain) in 1997. She earned her PhD degree at the Max Planck-Institute for Biophysical Chemistry (MPI Göttingen, Germany) in 2003, followed by a postdoc time at the Institute for Analytical Sciences (ISAS Dortmund, Germany). Always eager to learn from leading scientists around the world, Petra visited Cornell University (Ithaca, USA, in 2002) and the University of Tokyo (Japan, in 2005) for postdoc stays. In 2008, she became Assistant Professor at the Department of Chemistry and Applied Biosciences (ETH Zurich).  Petra has been awarded both a Starting Grant from the European Research Council (ERC) as well as the ERC Consolidator Grant.

Read Petra's full interview here.

Aya Iizuka pipetting in a lab

Meet Aya Iizuka, PhD Candidate

Aya is a PhD student in Infectious Diseases and Hospital Epidemiology at the University Hospital of Basel, in the Department of Biomedicine. Half Swiss and half Japanese, she grew up in Switzerland and did her undergraduate studies and Master degree at the University of Lausanne (UNIL) where she specialized in Molecular Biology. She speaks French, English, a bit of Japanese, and is currently trying to relearn German.

In her PhD research project, she is interested in the interaction between the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus (SA) and the human patient. Her group particularly studies deep-seated infections, meaning infections located deep within the body that are hard to remove or treat. Antibiotics that are clinically proven (in vitro) to effectively combat this bacterial infection do not always work in patients (in vivo) with deep-seated infections. Aya aims to understand better why patients with such deep-seated SA infections have treatment failures. In a typical day, Aya works in a lab examining patient samples that she gets from the clinicians at the University Hospital. She also spends time on the computer running analyses. She interacts with medical doctors, data scientists and biologists on a daily basis, and this is something she really enjoys. 

Outside of work, Aya enjoys reading books, listening to podcasts, cooking, hiking and travelling. One of her favorite places is the London Science Museum. Among her favorite podcasts are the ones from Lex Fridman, Alex O’Connor and Etienne Klein.

Read Aya's full interview here.



Meet Sarah BrĂĽningk, Postdoctoral Researcher

Sarah is a postdoc working at the interface of computational biology  andartificial intelligenceat ETH Zurich in the Machine Learning and Computational Biology lab. As part of the NCCR AntiResist Project, she works as a data scientist, analyzing data produced within this consortium but also devising software solutions that may be useful in the field in general.

Originally from Munich, Germany, she also studied physics there at the Technical University of Munich. During high school, Sarah was fascinated by science and mathematics. She first couldn’t decide which branch of science to pursue at university, and decided that a degree in physics would allowed her to remain flexible with her career choice. She always thought she would move more in the direction of astro- or engineering physics, but during her Master studies, she discovered the number of medical applications for physics and was very interested to go deeper into this direction. Sarah began to focus on physics for cancer therapy (radiotherapy) and diagnosis (imaging). Since she really enjoyed her first research project during her Master’s thesis, she decided to pursue a PhD at the Institute of Cancer Research in London, UK. There, her project combined practical wet lab experiments with computational analysis and simulations aiming to better quantify the biological effects of combination therapies. Working in a biology lab was a big change for her at the time since she had never held a pipette before starting her PhD and suddenly spent most of her time working in a sterile hood. In the end it was a great asset to have hands-on experience of how the data she used for her simulations were generated and what uncertainties these measurements entailed.  This experience really sets her apart from other computational researchers and she is quite proud of having produced publications in several disciplines.

After her PhD Sarah wanted to learn more about the area of artificial intelligence, since this was a topic she had not yet covered. Her postdoc research interests at the ETH Zurich are in combining machine learning and modelling for healthcare applications, embracing the clinical hallmarks of a disease in order to provide solutions that are understandable for clinicians and can be translated to clinical practice. In addition to her NCCR AntiResist work, Sarah is excited follow a more independent research idea as part of the Botnar Research Center for Child Health Postdoctoral Excellence Programme (BRCCH PEP).  

Read Sarah's full interview here.

Meet Tania Distler, PhD Candidate

Tania grew up in a small village in the northern part of Germany. After high school, she was still undecided on which path to take next, so she travelled to New Zealand for a gap year. This experience taught her to be less afraid of stepping out of her comfort zone and sparked her love for travelling and learning about other cultures.

Once she returned to Germany, she began her undergraduate studies in Molecular Biotechnology at the University of Heidelberg. During this time, she became very interested in stem cell research and learning how tissues form and regenerate. She therefore decided to join the Master’s program in Regenerative Biology and Medicine at the Technical University of Dresden. With her MSc degree complete, and because she had only experienced academia, Tania was curious about working in industry, and did a one-year internship in early research and development at a pharma company. This experience reinforced her decision to seek a PhD position in a healthcare-related field.

Tania was offered a PhD project in Prof. Alexandre Persat’s lab in the Global Health Institute at EPFL, so she packed her things and headed off to begin her doctoral studies in Lausanne. Tania feels lucky to be working on this doctoral project, which allows her to apply her knowledge in tissue biology to the real-world problem of antimicrobial resistance. In her free time, she enjoys the outdoors, especially going hiking and skiing in the Swiss Alps.

Read Tania's full interview here.

Meet Annelies Zinkernagel, Professor and Physician

Annelies is both a physician and a scientist working as a professor at the University of Zurich.  She wears two hats, one as the Director of the Department of Infectious Diseases and Hospital Epidemiology at the University Hospital of Zurich, where she attends to patients and oversees the clinicians in her department. Wearing the other hat, she is Professor and Chair of Infectious Diseases and Hospital Epidemiology, where she runs a research lab and teaches students and medical doctors.  Annelies’ research interest is understanding the pathophysiology of infectious diseases, specifically how to improve treatment as well as how to prevent bacterial infections. Using patient samples, she studies how bacteria behave inside patients and how bacteria and host cells (human) interact at a microscopic level.

Annelies grew up in Switzerland and was always interested in science.  She studied medicine in Switzerland at the Universities of Lausanne and Zurich. After becoming board certified first in internal medicine and then infectious diseases, Annelies went to California, USA, eager to learn more about the interplay between host and pathogens.  She worked at the University of California San Diego and the Burnham Institute for Medical Research, where she earned a PhD.  

Since returning to Switzerland, Annelies has been working at the University Hospital Zurich researching, attending to patients and teaching at both the University of Zurich and the ETH Zurich. Annelies has received numerous awards and fellowships, is an active member of multiple national and international scientific organizations and is currently the first female president of the European Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases.  

Annelies is also the mother to two children and, in her free time, she enjoys hiking and skiing.

Read Annelies' full interview here