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Answers from the realm of proteins

Women of IMC Krems

The dynamics of proteins and their interactions are the passion of young researcher Stefanie Brandstetter. As a PhD student in Biomedical Mass Spectrometry at the Institute Krems Bioanalytics at IMC Krems, she is dedicated to researching proteins and their complex compounds.

Young researcher Stefanie Brandstetter at the Institute Krems Bioanalytics at IMC Krems during her research work, analysing proteins and their complex compounds in the field of mass spectrometry.

Stefanie Brandstetter, MSc, BSc completed her bachelor degree in Biology with a specialisation in Molecular Biology in 2020 and her master degree in Computational Science at the University of Vienna in 2022. Since 2023, she has been enrolled in the doctoral programme in Chemistry at the University of Vienna and is working at IMC Krems in the Biomedical Mass Spectrometry Laboratory of Endowed Professor Franz Herzog, Province of Lower Austria, on the "ImmunoProteomics" project, which is funded by FFG Austria.  By analysing mass spectrometry data, Brandstetter wants to gain a deeper understanding of the functioning and interactions of these proteins. Her field of research not only promises insights into fundamental biological processes, but also has potential for the development of new therapies and medicines.

What is your research focus? 

I am working on how we can use mass spectrometry data to learn about the behaviour of proteins in interaction. Proteins and the complexes they form are extremely dynamic. This is important for everything in our body to function properly, but also extremely complex. I would like to shed more light on how proteins interact with each other.

How can one imagine your research work in mass spectrometry?

A mass spectrometer is a device that measures the mass of charged particles called ions. It can analyse a variety of molecules, from small ones like drugs to large ones like proteins. The Institute Krems Bioanalytics is currently working on a technology platform that will enable the precise analysis of proteins. This platform will make it possible to analyse both the fragments of proteins, called peptides, as well as intact proteins. Initially, the focus will be on analysing protein interactions. This helps to identify the exact location where proteins interact with each other and to estimate the strength of this binding. This information is particularly important for identifying potential therapeutic approaches and developing therapeutics.

What fascinates you most about this field of research?

This area of protein-protein interaction is of great importance in our body at all times. If we understand it, it can be a good starting point for the development of drugs. I grew up in a family of doctors surrounded by disease patterns and how they affect people every day. To make a small contribution to improving the quality of life of some people would be phenomenal.

What are you researching in your current project? 

I am currently working on the question of how to optimise modelling the interfaces where proteins interact with each other and what properties they have. The close connection between working on the computer and in the lab is unique for me. I really appreciate gathering experience and my own data in both areas. It is often an either-or and not a both-and between working on the computer and in the lab. 
A large part of the programming work takes place in my head first, when I think about a problem before I try out a solution. It’s not unusual for me to sit with a piece of paper and try to get the solution out of my head.

Why did you decide to study computational science? 

The fun I had evaluating data in the biochemistry lab led me to study computational science as a master programme. I was also interested in the challenge of learning programming because it is a different way of thinking, like learning a new language.

Why did you choose science, and how did you end up here in Krems?

Science has always been close to my heart; I knew that I wanted to study something in the field of biology. The opportunity to do this at IMC Krems was a case of “the right place at the right time”. I had only completed my master degree a few months earlier and had actually started working in a microbiology diagnostics laboratory when I got the call and the offer for the PhD position. From then on it was clear to me that I had to take advantage of this opportunity.

Stefanie Brandstetter as a private person: what inspires and motivates you? 

Research and its results can improve lives, which is an important point. Individually, however, I just love solving complex problems. I still have this drive for more knowledge and understanding and I also want to prove to myself that I can make valuable contributions at this level.

Where do you find a balance to your work? What do you do when you’re not working?

Sport is very important to me. Usually, I sit in front of my computer for hours and think about problems, so I need the opportunity to switch off my brain sometimes. At the weekend, I’m usually at home with my parents and spend time with my nieces so that I don’t miss out on them growing up. I’m giving my creativity freer rein again by painting and sketching.

What career aspirations did you have as a child? And are you glad today that your career path turned out differently? 

As a child, I always thought I would study medicine, follow in my father’s footsteps and perhaps take over his practice in the countryside. But I’m far too happy in research to take that path. I’ve found my niche and can hardly imagine doing anything else. I was already interested in science at school and attended a secondary school focusing on science. I discovered biology for myself after initially trying my hand at food and biotechnology and studying to become a biology and English teacher, before finding what I was looking for in biology with a focus on molecular biology. I further developed this choice in my master degree in Computational Science with a focus on proteomics and a good dose of computer science and mathematics.

What do you find exciting about research work? 

Research is becoming more and more interdisciplinary; the clear-cut classifications that we know from school have disappeared. Every concept and every framework you learn can be applied and be the final building block to an explanation. That’s what makes it so exciting: “thinking outside the box” and trying to expand this box somehow every day.

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