Lasse Saaby, PostDoc02. May 2018
What motivated you to become a scientist?
It was not a conscious decision to become a scientist, but probably something that happened while I was not paying attention. I have always thought of myself as a curious person wondering how things work and how everything fits together in nature. Since elementary school I have had an interest in natural sciences and during high school this interest evolved into a fascination of how small and foreign molecules can exert pharmacological effects in living organisms and be used as medicines. To pursue this fascination I decided to study pharmacy, and while I was finishing my Master’s thesis project, an opportunity for a PhD fellowship opened up. Just before handing in my PhD thesis, I was offered my current position as a scientist in a small contract-based research organization, where I have the privilege to work at the interface between academic research and industry-based research.
How did you end up doing what you do today?
I obtained my degree in pharmacy (Cand.Pharm.) from University of Copenhagen and managed to keep my fascination for the pharmacological effects of small molecules intact throughout the studies. In this way, I wrote a Master’s thesis project on the isolation of plant-derived compounds with inhibitory activity towards enzymes relevant for the treatment of depression. During my PhD project, I had the opportunity to combine my experience in pharmacognosy and natural products chemistry with mammalian cell-based screening assays. The aim of the project was to identify and isolate secondary metabolites with potential immunomodulatory effects from plant material. In particular, my experience with culturing and setting up in vitro cell-based screening models was decisive for my way into my current research within in vitro modeling of biological barriers and the application of in vitro barrier models in drug development.
What are you working on at the moment?
Within the Research Initiative on Brain Barriers and Drug Delivery (RIBBDD), we are currently working on establishing an in vitro model of the human blood-brain barrier. This model is based on human induced pluripotent stem cells, which we are trying to differentiate into an endothelial cell phenotype similar to that found in the small capillaries of the human brain. Most of the current understanding of the blood-brain barrier comes from in vivo studies in animals and in vitro models based on cells of animal origin. A human blood-brain barrier model therefore has the potential to increase our current understanding of the human blood-brain barrier considerably, and enable laboratory experimentation with this barrier without the uncertainties originating from species differences.
What do you think the most exciting thing about being a scientist is?
To make discoveries and to fit even the smallest discoveries into a larger context. I also like the challenge of designing experiments so that the results of the experiments will address a scientific question or hypothesis in a proper manner.
What do you do when you are not working?
I try to balance family life with being an amateur photographer and outdoor activities such as hiking, camping in shelters and tents, and practicing general survival techniques. I also volunteer in the local scout association, where both of my sons are active members.
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