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.

Petra Dittrich

Meet Petra Dittrich, Professor

Prof. Dr. Petra S. Dittrich 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

Aya Iizuka pipetting in a lab

Meet Aya Iizuka, PhD Student

Aya Iizuka 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.



Sarah BrĂĽningk

Meet Sarah BrĂĽningk, Postdoctoral Researcher

Dr. Sarah BrĂĽningk 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.

Tania Distler

Meet Tania Distler, PhD Student

Tania Distler 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.

Annelies Zinkernagel

Meet Annelies Zinkernagel, Professor and Physician

Prof. Dr. Dr. med. Annelies Zinkernagel 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