Annette Burkhart Larsen, Assistant Professor01. August 2018
What motivated you to become a scientist?
I don’t think ever dreamt of becoming a scientist. As a kid, I wanted to become a marine biologist, but only so that I could swim with killer whales, an animal I was very fascinated with. Today, that sounds as a very crazy idea. However, back in high school, I discovered an interest in human biology. So, after high school, I moved to Aarhus to study Molecular Biology. Two years in, I was getting a little frustrated since we were not learning that much about human diseases. I did, however, discover a passion for working in a laboratory. Luckily, I heard that a new education called Medicine with Industrial Specialization (MEDIS) had just started in Aalborg. It was an education combining the medical education with biomedical research, and this was exactly what I was lacking in my current studies. So I decided to finish my bachelor in Molecular Biology and move to Aalborg to study MEDIS. Fortunately, I was given one year of earn credit, so I didn’t have to start all over.
I had a desire for learning about the human body, but never with the intention of becoming a doctor. Therefore, the MEDIS education was perfect for me. Where it would take me afterward I had no idea about. I just followed my interest and instinct, which fortunately led me to become a neuroscientist.
How did you end up doing what you do today?
When I started studying MEDIS, my first semester (corresponding to the 3rd semester) was centered around neurobiology and I quickly became fascinated with the brain and all its mystery. I did my 3rd-semester project in collaboration with Torben Moos. In this project, we studied whether there was a correlation between brain functions and the areas of the brain that was defined by the German anatomist Brodmann (referred to as Brodmann areas), who solely based the division on the cytoarchitectural organization of neurons in the cerebral cortex. When I then a few years later had to decide on a Master’s project, I again turned towards the brain, more specifically the blood-brain barrier (BBB). I did my Master’s project in collaboration with Torben, who afterward offered me a Ph.D. position, so we could continue the project. I finished my Ph.D. in 2014, and in the meantime, Torben had become part of the RIBBDD network, which gave me the opportunity to continue in his lab as a PostDoc. 2½ years later, an assistant professor position opened up at the Institute, and Torben encouraged me to apply. I did and in June 2017, I started as an assistant professor still with close connection to the Laboratory of Neurobiology.
What are you working on at the moment?
Since my Master’s degree, I have been working with gene therapy at the BBB as a strategy to enable protein delivery to the brain. The idea is to turn the BBB into a protein factory that will produce and secrete proteins with therapeutic potentials towards the brain. Additionally, I am involved in projects studying the mechanisms by which iron is transported across the BBB, with the aim of getting a better understanding of the transferrin receptor as a target for drug delivery at the BBB. Finally, I am also involved in projects where we explore the transferrin receptor as a drug delivery target on the BBB for transport of nanoparticles across the BBB.
What do you think the most exciting thing about being a scientist is?
I love that two days are never the same. You can never predict what will happen and in which direction the research will take you. I really enjoy working in the laboratory, so even though I am now an assistant professor with many teaching obligations, I prioritize my research highly so I can spend as much time in the laboratory as possible. It is also very motivating that my research one day might help treat patients with neurological diseases. The fact that my work lets me travel to new places to participate in conferences together with leading scientists in the field is also very inspiring.
What do you do when you are not working?
I live on a small farm together with my boyfriend, where we have turned a large piece of land into a huge vegetable garden. I spend much of my free time growing and taking care of the vegetables. I really enjoy that I can just go to my garden and pick up the vegetables I would like for dinner, instead of going to the grocery store. We also have chickens that provide us with fresh eggs. Being in my garden provides me with a free space, where I can clear my mind.
When I was a child, I was a very passionate swimmer, a passion I still have, however not on the same level. Finally, I, of course, like to spend time with my family and friends.
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