Q&A with Dr. Ulla Gerling-Driessen at Stanford


By Quirine Eijkenboom, Featuring Dr. Ulla Gerling-Driessen


1) NGLY1 is a global team. Where were you born and raised?

I was born and raised in Germany, in a small town near the German capitol Berlin. When I was born, Germany was still separated and I was born in the former GDR.

2) How did you get into science and how did you end up in the Bertozzi Lab?

When Germany was reunited in 1989 (I was in 1st grade), the school system changed to what it was in the Western part of Germany. After finishing school (A levels), I studied Chemistry at the Freie Universität Berlin. I met Carolyn in 2014 during a conference that our department organized. By that time, I had already finished my PhD and was looking for postdoc positions. My PhD project was focused on bioorganic chemistry but I wanted to my postdoc to be more biologically oriented. So Carolyn’s lab, working at the interface of chemistry and biology, was the ideal place for my postdoc and I am very grateful that she gave me a position in her lab.

3) How did you select your particular area of focus?

I was granted a fellowship from the German Research Association (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft; DFG) and was initially supposed to work on a different topic (isotopic targeted glycoproteomics). But when I started in March 2016, Carolyn had just started to work on NGLY1 and pitched the project to me. It sounded very interesting, so I became part of the team.

4) What intrigues you the most when it comes to NGLY1 mechanics?

How many important processes NGLY1 seems to be involved in, and we have just started scratching the surface with our research.

5) What is one thing people would be surprised to know about your daily work with NGLY1?

How hard it can be to find good resources for our research, like decent antibodies for instance. This is due to the fact that NGLY1 has not been very well investigated so far.

6) What is the biggest challenge you face in your research today?

The fact that so little is known about NGLY1 and its importance in biological processes. Research is happening in real time and progress depends on researchers talking to each other and being willing to share results and ideas.

7) What trends in medicine/science are you most excited about?

CRISPR technology and Immunotherapy as cancer treatment:

CRISPR is a great tool for research, as knock down or knock out cell lines can be created relatively easily, which allows for a broad application to study the function and importance of certain genes. The potential of gene editing for therapeutic applications is also very exciting. Even if the treatment of diseases is still down the road (due to longevity and target-specific delivery issues) the broad spectra of potential applications is inspiring.

Immunotherapy is a very exciting approach for cancer treatment. Activating the body’s own immune system to attack cancer cells is fascinating and will become much more common in the future. It is a personalized medicinal approach that is specific for the particular mutation/cancer of the patient. It is very effective, but unfortunately also very expensive currently and thus not a general treatment option yet. Hopefully further research and development will allow for better accessibility to this approach to fight cancer.

8) What do you think is going to bring us closer to a cure?

Hopefully the teamwork effort and the interaction, exchange and communication between researchers will help in finding a treatment / cure.

9) What do you enjoy doing in your free time? How do you unwind after work?

I am a mom of two boys (2.5 years and 2 months). After I come home from work, my job as a mom starts and it’s a full-time job with no breaks and no vacations, but it’s also the most fulfilling job in the world. My husband and I love the ocean and spending time outside in general. Thus, we take our kids to the beach on weekends as often as possible. Digging in the sand is fun for our toddler and the sound of the crashing waves helps in getting a clear head after a stressful week.

10) Do you have a favorite motto? If yes, what is it?

Not sure if this is really a motto, but I do believe that we have to try to make the most out of what life offers us. This means following our aims and dreams, using our chances, and staying strong to overcome the struggles that life can bring sometimes


Title Image: Dr. Carolyn Bertozzi (left) and Dr. Ulla Gerling-Driessen (right)

(Image credit: L.A. Cicero)

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