Curiosity as a driving factor in biochemistry

How Research May Lead to New Treatments for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Aline Bozec was the first to discover essential biochemical mechanisms behind the role of bone and bone marrow in the overall system of the body. She tells how curiosity has driven her academic research.  

It is good to take risks, learn from mistakes, and try out things you never did before.

What Was Your Motivation to Pursue a Career as a Researcher? 

Well, at first I did not want to be a researcher! When I started my studies, I was interested in biology and biochemistry. I was eager to do hands-on laboratory work. However, after my Bachelor's degree, I was especially attracted to cellular biology. In contrast to most of my fellow-students, I did not just focus on the cell-level mechanisms, but wanted to understand the broader picture. How do environmental processes affect the biochemical level? We know very little about such interrelationships.

How Did You Become an Expert on Bone Research?

In my Master's thesis, I looked at the male reproductive tract. I found that clinical research was important to me, but it was also quite limiting. I wanted to do more experiments, usually done with rodents. So, I contacted Prof. Wagner in Vienna, an internationally renowned expert on genetically modified mice. He offered me a research position.

The focus now was on something very different: I would study bone development and osteoporosis, something I did not know about much! Bone turned out to be very interesting; it is not just a mechanical structure, but also an endocrine system. As such, bone and bone marrow are essential players in the overall system of the body and allow for a more integrated view on individual organs. It was during this period I discovered the power of a great institute, and a strong mentor, which gave me the possibilities to do whatever I wanted to find out about the molecular mechanisms of the phenomena observed in mice. It was like doing a giant puzzle and only at the end seeing the whole picture.

   A portrait of a female scientist    A portrait of a female scientist

What Role Does Curiosity and Creativity Play in Your Research?

I never thought of myself as a creative person. But I do work a lot, quite passionately. I like to look beyond the boundaries of my own discipline. I often meet my colleagues and ask them stupid questions. Banal stuff. Things you learn in the first semester if you are a gastroentrologist or rheumatologist. I really like to learn new things. If I had to do research on the same subject all the time instead – say, spending my whole life researching one molecule or one biochemical model – I would get bored. It is good to take risks, learn from mistakes, and try out things you never did before.

Opportunities, Creativity and Learning – Three Aspects Considered Essential to Curiosity. How about the Fourth Aspect: Distress Tolerance. Do You Consider Yourself to Be a Stress-Resistant Person?

Fundamental research can be a tough job. You are constantly in need of funding and under high pressure to publish your work in scientific journals. I was lucky my early research was published in high-ranking journals such as nature. All my papers were rejected the first time. It is important to not take the negative comments personally. Just deliver everything what your peer reviewers asked for and submit it again and again and again. Persistence is key.

How Can People Remain Curious in Their Work?

You have to love what you do. You should be convinced that your ideas cover new aspects the world should know about. Thanks to my research on cross-talk between organs, we now have a much better theoretical framework for understanding the relationship between environmental factors, such as eating habits, and diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis. Hopefully this will lead to new ways to cure these diseases.

Prof. Dr. Dr. rer. Aline Bozec (26th of March 1977, Orléans, France) studied biochemistry at the universities of Science in Orléans and Lyon. She received her PhD in 2004, on the environmental factors influencing male fertility. In 2012, she was given the Emmy Noether fellowship by the German Research Foundation (DFG), enabling her to lead her own independent junior research group. In 2016, DFG awarded her the Heinz Maier-Leibnitz Prize. She is now professor of osteoimmunology at the University of Erlangen.

Sybe Izaak Rispens (1969) follows his curiosity with a passion, both in the natural sciences and the humanities. A trained engineer and philosopher, he was awarded his PhD on the subject of Artificial Intelligence. He is the director of the Institute for Science and Technology Communication, and a certified IT security consultant. He lives in Berlin with his wife and daughter.

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