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Science Q&A: Expanding our knowledge of memory

Cagla Sahin’s research focuses on expanding our knowledge of how the human memory is formed and stored, and she will investigate molecular interactions inside cellular structures formed by memory proteins and her findings might lead to a better understanding of the relationship between normal brain function and disease.

Cagla Sahin, PhD, was one of the recipients of the Novo Nordisk Foundation’s postdoctoral fellowships 2019 for research abroad in the field of Bioscience and Basic Biomedicine. Sahin will receive DKK 3,640,073 over four years.

What does this grant mean to you and your research?

“Thanks to the NNF grant, I get to spend three years at the Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, where I will deepen my knowledge of mass spectrometry (MS), a really cool and advanced technique that enables the measurement of molecular weights, leading to insight of complex molecular assemblies. In particular I will use native MS and hydrogen-deuterium exchange MS to understand how molecular interactions and structural and conformational changes affect the function of amyloid-like proteins. This has never been done, and I’m really looking forward to it! It is really exciting to get my own funding that supports my ideas and research, and gives me the opportunity to grow as a scientist this early in my career.”

Where will you conduct your post-doc?

“The first three years I will be doing my postdoctoral research at the department of Microbiology, Tumor and Cell Biology at the Karolinska Institutet, in the group of Assistant Professor Michael Landreh and Professor Sir David Lane. Thereafter, and for the last year of the project, I will join the group of Associate professor Kaare Teilum at the department of Biology at Copenhagen University, where another technique, nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), will be used for structural characterization of amyloid-like proteins.”

What applications could your research have?

“My research qualifies as basic science and focuses on expanding the knowledge of how the human memory is formed and stored. Specifically, I will investigate molecular interactions inside cellular structures formed by what are known as memory proteins, using native and hydrogen-deuterium exchange MS. At the same time, studying such molecular interactions may lead to a better understanding of the molecular mechanisms involved in neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s and even cancer. Furthermore, this technique can be applied to understand molecular interactions in many other contexts, ranging from basic science to drug development and to protein formulation in industry.”

What is the best thing about being a scientist and about your area of research?

“In general I love science and being a scientist. I like to develop new methods and protocols that can help shed light on a problem in a new way. Once you make any discovery – even tiny findings – they are a part of a bigger question, and I just find it thrilling and exciting to understand the everyday life – in nature, health and disease.”

Do you have any advice to students out there wanting to pursue a career in science?

“If I were to give some general advice, one aspect would be to remember the life outside the science world, and really focus on finding that balance – it will make the road of the scientific career easier and more fun. Another piece of advice is to talk with the people in your network; supervisors, fellow-students, colleagues, non-scientist friends. Talking with others can open up your perspectives, whether it is regarding your career, for feedback on your development as a scientist/colleague/friend, or for a specific problem related to an experimental setup. Finally, find a good balance of optimism and realism. One will (most often) meet a lot of failure before achieving that one positive result, which others might not even find as exciting as you do. Prepare yourself by lowering your expectations, while striving for the best.”