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An IMC bachelor on the international research stage

Helene Stütz is a graduate of the bachelor programme Medical and Pharmaceutical Biotechnology at IMC Krems. During her internship at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver, Canada, she researched an improved method of producing microparticles for biomedical applications. This is another step in imaging blood flow in the lungs, which is crucial in therapies of lung diseases. As part of her research, she has now published her first paper in the journal ACS Biomaterials Science & Engineering. In our interview, she talks about her work in the lab, her training and special moments in research.

Helene Stütz is a graduate of the bachelor programme Medical and Pharmaceutical Biotechnology at IMC Krems. As part of her research, she has published her first paper in the journal ACS Biomaterials Science & Engineering.

How did you develop such an enthusiasm for your research topic? 

During my bachelor’s degree at IMC Krems, I heard about particles which are used for targeted drug release in the body in a physics lecture. I knew then that I wanted to do research on such particles and immediately found a suitable lab place at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver, Canada.

What was the goal of your bachelor thesis and what results did you achieve?

I wanted to research an improved method of producing microparticles for biomedical applications. These particles can be used, for example, in lung scans to identify and localise existing thrombi. Through intensive research, months of laboratory work and a spark of luck, I then managed to produce exactly these particles, label them radioactively and validate the application of the particles by means of a mouse study.

How can we imagine your research work during the internship and in the lab? 

During my time at UBC, I worked in detail on microparticles which are produced using a specific method called microfluidics. With this method, the size and size distribution of the particles can be precisely controlled. The microparticles consist of protein, were created on a microfluidics chip and heated – thereby denaturing them –, which causes the particles to retain exactly the shape they take on the chip. The particles produced in this way can now be radioactively labelled and used for diagnostic purposes, for example to image lung blood flow. 

It is not a matter of course to publish the results of a bachelor thesis in an international journal. How did you manage to take this step?

When my supervisor at UBC heard about my progress in particle research, he was excited and worked out a “roadmap” for publication with me, which I followed for the last two months. When our final mouse study was successful and the expected results were obtained, it was clear that we would try to share these research results with the scientific community and write a publication. After a few months, it was accepted and published in the journal ACS Biomaterials Science & Engineering.

What makes this research project unique? 

What is special about our particles is, on the one hand, the high quality, measured by the relatively small standard deviation of the size distribution of the particles compared to other production methods, and, on the other hand, the high flexibility of the system itself, as there are few limits to creativity here. In addition, the particles can be used not only for diagnostics but also for the targeted distribution of active substances in the body, where the particles serve as carriers for drugs.

Which moment in your research work do you remember most?  

During my seven months in Vancouver, there were many emotional moments, both joy at successes and disappointment when an attempt went wrong. By far the most moving moment was when I first got the microfluidics chips I had made myself working enough to produce microparticles. I did a dance of joy in my lab!
You completed your bachelor’s degree in Medical and Pharmaceutical Biotechnology at IMC Krems. What was your motivation for this programme?
I have always been very interested in natural sciences, and a degree programme that combines medical, pharmaceutical and biotechnological knowledge was just the right thing for me. I can only recommend this degree programme at IMC Krems to everyone and dare say that it was one of my best decisions.

About Helene Stütz, BA

Helene Stütz completed her bachelor’s degree in Medical and Pharmaceutical Biotechnology at IMC University of Applied Sciences in Krems. She completed her internships at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences (BOKU), Vienna, and at the University of British Columbia (UBC), Vancouver. She gained her first professional experience at the Austrian Agency for Health and Food Safety (AGES) in Vienna. Currently, she is studying Molecular Biotechnology at the FH Campus Wien. In 2020, she was awarded the Young Pharma Award for her outstanding research work. This makes the 24-year-old one of the most innovative young researchers in the Austrian pharmaceutical industry.