P.MAI Pioneer: Simone Schuerle, Head Professor of the ETH Responsive Biomedical Systems Lab

0 comments / Posted on by P.MAI Team


SIMONE SCHUERLE

When I first met Simone in Berlin, it was love at first sight. Her friendly demeanor, chic style, and enthusiasm about science made you want to learn about anything she had to say. Hailing from a tiny German village,  Ringingen, which boasts 1500  inhabitants, this young professor is currently the head of the Responsive Biomedical Systems Lab at the prestigious ETH Zurich.

She has more accolades than I can count, ranging from the ETH medal for her doctoral thesis and with fellowships from the SNSF, DAAD and the Society in Science for her postdoctoral studies at the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she was researching as postdoctoral fellow from 2014-2017. In addition to education, she is serving as Global Future Council for the World Economic Forum. We caught up with madam scientist (and P.MAI fan) on a crisp fall day.

 

 

You're only 32 and already on a professor tenure track in a field most people couldn't even understand. What exactly are you working on?  

My research is about the development of tiny systems that are applied in the human body and help to diagnose or treat certain diseases. These somewhat smart and responsive systems can react to specific signals of a disease environment, such as characteristic pH levels or molecular activity, and send us a signal to the outside. By tweaking more with their design, we can also activate them from the outside by heat, acoustic or electromagnetic signals, and trigger the release of certain drugs on demand. 

While I am mostly working with synthetic materials, I recently started to include living organisms that can be “customized” by new methods in synthetic biology. I specially focus here on their use to combat cancer. It was shown that certain circulating bacteria can inherently locate tumors, and be engineered to controllably induce local cytotoxicity while remaining unobtrusive to the host system.

I propose to advance this promising approach by leveraging bacteria that are naturally capable of producing magnetic particles within their body. With the application of low and high frequency alternating magnetic fields, these living, mobile therapeutics can be monitored in vivo and also be remotely activated to achieve increased tumor penetration, toxin release, and their own self-destruction to provide an externally-controlled ‘safety net’.

My goal is to shed light on the clinical potential of combining the power of magnetics and probiotics, in order to test the hypothesis that this one-two punch may pave the way for a revolutionized cancer therapy.

Simone in P.MAI navy professional leather laptop backpack

How did you first become interested in science? 

Mmh, that’s hard to trace back, I think it was always there somehow. I was reading and experimenting a lot as a kid, and when I started high school, I chose math and physics as my major. I felt this would teach me the fundamental knowledge and tools required to understand the world around us (at least a tiny bit of it!). I especially loved the practical course in physics, where we built experiments that seemed like magic, e.g., levitating strawberries, until you know the math and physics behind).

How did that interest grow into a field as specialized as micro/nanosystems?

This was during undergrad! I was intrigued by an introductory lecture on micro/nanotechnology and was caught by the very first moment. It fascinated me how literally a whole new world of physics and engineering opens up at the small scale. Different physics laws apply and when I started to learn how to fabricate systems at that small scale - and by small mean length scales smaller than 1/1000 of the width of your hair- I experienced kind of a thrill of potentially discovering something new.

 

What has been one of your biggest career challenges? How did you overcome it?

I think believing in myself and not worrying or caring so much about what others think about you or expect from you. I wouldn’t say that I have overcome that, but my incredibly lucky and positive course of my career so far helped to believe more in me. But even without positive feedback from outside—which can change quickly even without your fault—one should by default believe in oneself. When I worry about not performing well and someone might think bad of me, I now try to ground myself and imagine the worst impact of that on my life, realizing that I would still be alive and my family and friends would be still there for me. This eases the pressure and gives me some room to just be me.

What advice do you have for woman entering a male-dominated field?

Hang in there! For now, there will be still men who don’t believe in women in their field. Ignore them or better: prove them wrong! It was often hard in the beginning, but in hindsight I think this environment made me even stronger. If times are difficult, see it as a boot camp and advocate for yourself and your fellow women! 

Where do you see yourself in 20 years? 

Ha, I hope as happily married woman to my fiancé, with by then adult kids and a lab with a bunch of super excited students and researchers!

How do you think we can encourage the next generation of girls to be interested in STEM fields?

Help them try it out - as early as possible. For example, there are fun science kits for all sorts of age classes. And be careful not to tap into a gender bias for children. It’s everywhere—children clothing that suggests girls are pretty and boys are heroes. All kids are heroes of course!

 


SIMONE SCHUERLE

When I first met Simone in Berlin, it was love at first sight. Her friendly demeanor, chic style, and enthusiasm about science made you want to learn about anything she had to say. Hailing from a tiny German village,  Ringingen, which boasts 1500  inhabitants, this young professor is currently the head of the Responsive Biomedical Systems Lab at the prestigious ETH Zurich.

She has more accolades than I can count, ranging from the ETH medal for her doctoral thesis and with fellowships from the SNSF, DAAD and the Society in Science for her postdoctoral studies at the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she was researching as postdoctoral fellow from 2014-2017. In addition to education, she is serving as Global Future Council for the World Economic Forum. We caught up with madam scientist (and P.MAI fan) on a crisp fall day.

 

 

You're only 32 and already on a professor tenure track in a field most people couldn't even understand. What exactly are you working on?  

My research is about the development of tiny systems that are applied in the human body and help to diagnose or treat certain diseases. These somewhat smart and responsive systems can react to specific signals of a disease environment, such as characteristic pH levels or molecular activity, and send us a signal to the outside. By tweaking more with their design, we can also activate them from the outside by heat, acoustic or electromagnetic signals, and trigger the release of certain drugs on demand. 

While I am mostly working with synthetic materials, I recently started to include living organisms that can be “customized” by new methods in synthetic biology. I specially focus here on their use to combat cancer. It was shown that certain circulating bacteria can inherently locate tumors, and be engineered to controllably induce local cytotoxicity while remaining unobtrusive to the host system.

I propose to advance this promising approach by leveraging bacteria that are naturally capable of producing magnetic particles within their body. With the application of low and high frequency alternating magnetic fields, these living, mobile therapeutics can be monitored in vivo and also be remotely activated to achieve increased tumor penetration, toxin release, and their own self-destruction to provide an externally-controlled ‘safety net’.

My goal is to shed light on the clinical potential of combining the power of magnetics and probiotics, in order to test the hypothesis that this one-two punch may pave the way for a revolutionized cancer therapy.

Simone in P.MAI navy professional leather laptop backpack

How did you first become interested in science? 

Mmh, that’s hard to trace back, I think it was always there somehow. I was reading and experimenting a lot as a kid, and when I started high school, I chose math and physics as my major. I felt this would teach me the fundamental knowledge and tools required to understand the world around us (at least a tiny bit of it!). I especially loved the practical course in physics, where we built experiments that seemed like magic, e.g., levitating strawberries, until you know the math and physics behind).

How did that interest grow into a field as specialized as micro/nanosystems?

This was during undergrad! I was intrigued by an introductory lecture on micro/nanotechnology and was caught by the very first moment. It fascinated me how literally a whole new world of physics and engineering opens up at the small scale. Different physics laws apply and when I started to learn how to fabricate systems at that small scale - and by small mean length scales smaller than 1/1000 of the width of your hair- I experienced kind of a thrill of potentially discovering something new.

 

What has been one of your biggest career challenges? How did you overcome it?

I think believing in myself and not worrying or caring so much about what others think about you or expect from you. I wouldn’t say that I have overcome that, but my incredibly lucky and positive course of my career so far helped to believe more in me. But even without positive feedback from outside—which can change quickly even without your fault—one should by default believe in oneself. When I worry about not performing well and someone might think bad of me, I now try to ground myself and imagine the worst impact of that on my life, realizing that I would still be alive and my family and friends would be still there for me. This eases the pressure and gives me some room to just be me.

What advice do you have for woman entering a male-dominated field?

Hang in there! For now, there will be still men who don’t believe in women in their field. Ignore them or better: prove them wrong! It was often hard in the beginning, but in hindsight I think this environment made me even stronger. If times are difficult, see it as a boot camp and advocate for yourself and your fellow women! 

Where do you see yourself in 20 years? 

Ha, I hope as happily married woman to my fiancé, with by then adult kids and a lab with a bunch of super excited students and researchers!

How do you think we can encourage the next generation of girls to be interested in STEM fields?

Help them try it out - as early as possible. For example, there are fun science kits for all sorts of age classes. And be careful not to tap into a gender bias for children. It’s everywhere—children clothing that suggests girls are pretty and boys are heroes. All kids are heroes of course!

 

comment

Leave a comment

All blog comments are checked prior to publishing