5 May 2019

My name is Hanna Niehues, and I am a German Postdoc working at the Laboratory of Experimental Dermatology within the theme Inflammatory diseases.

When you were a kid what did you want to be when you grew up? Can you tell us something about your child years. 

Besides dreaming about a career as professional horse rider, like many little girls do, I already knew quite early that I was interested in Biology. Initially, I dreamed of becoming an aquatic biologist to study sea life.

What was your previous academic training, where did you study and why that study? 

In 2007 I moved from Germany to Nijmegen and I studied Biology at the Radboud University. Already during High School I was especially interested in human biology and pathophysiology. I was intrigued to learn about functioning and malfunctioning of cellular processes and to understand the basis of disease. Therefore I specialised my study in the track of Medical Biology.

The RIMLS motto is: ‘Today’s molecules for tomorrow’s medicine’. What does this mean for you? 

Actually, this motto nicely matches the approach of my research. I am studying functional consequences of genetic variations associated to chronic skin diseases (e.g. psoriasis, eczema, recurrent fungal infections). Genome wide association studies of the last decade bring up numerous risk loci for these and other diseases, and my research focuses on the understanding of how these variants contribute to disease. Unravelling of how disturbances or loss of genes/proteins leads to disease tells us about the function of these specific molecules and can be an important target for new therapeutics in the future.

Who is your great example as scientists? And please give a motivation why.

I do not have a specific scientist as a “personal role model” but I do find it very inspiring to see the rise of many great female scientist during the last decade. Personally, is encourages me as a young woman to step up and to achieve my personal goals for my scientific career.  

Which research discovery that you have made has made you most proud? 

I study the Late Cornified Envelope (LCE) proteins, a relatively unbeknown family of proteins expressed in epithelial cells. An earlier study of our Department unravelled a link between a mutation in two of these genes (LCE3B/C-del) and psoriasis. During my PhD, I studied the expression and function of these molecules and we discovered that these proteins have antibacterial function. Moreover, we found that this mutation alters the expression of other genes of this family. Therefore, we were the first to describe a function of LCE proteins in the skin and linked disturbances in the expression of these proteins to alterations in antimicrobial host defence in psoriasis.

Given unlimited finance what experiment would you perform?

I would like to perform metagenomics analyses on diverse epithelia of healthy volunteers as well psoriasis patients in a large cohort. Therein, I want to determine the presence of the different microbiota in LCE3B/C wild type and deletion individuals. This would lead to identify the role of keratinocyte-expressed LCE proteins in total microbiome composition and LCE-dependent microbiome changes in psoriasis. Ideally, I would even combine this with the presence of other genetic psoriasis risk variants in keratinocyte and immune cell expressed genes.

What does your working area (desk, office) look like and what does it say about you (or your research)? 

Generally my desk and lab bench are quite tidy. Especially during experiments I like everything to be clean and structured to keep a good overview. Neat preparation increases good performance much easier and makes me work more efficient.

Nominate a colleague to be in the spotlight and what would you like to ask him or her?

I would like to nominate Wiljan Hendriks form the Department of Cell Biology who regularly joins our working discussion and feeds us with his inexhaustible (molecular) knowledge.

What type of person are you, quick insights:

a) Mac or PC?                                : PC
b) Theater or cinema?                 : Cinema
c) Dine out or dine in?                 : Dine out
d) Ferrari or Fiat?                         : Fiat
e) Shopaholic or chocoholic?     : Chocoholic
f) Culture or Nature                     : Nature

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