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Story #Naturwissenschaften & Technik#Karriere & Entrepreneurship

Krems to Oxford: Nicole Dvorak heads to Great Britain

She studied Medical and Pharmaceutical Biotechnology in Krems.

Nicole Dvorak has recently finished her Masters studies at IMC Krems and is now starting her PhD at Oxford University.

Nicole - Dvorak - Bio

Sucessfull Biotech: Nicole Dvorak has finished her studies in Krems and is now starting her PhD at Oxford University.

A few sentences about your career – studies, practicals, special research interests, maybe exceptional research projects?

I was unsure what exactly I wanted to do after finishing high school. Medicine has always fascinated me but becoming a doctor was out of question. I preferred to stay in the background and work on new possibilities to cure diseases.

The bachelor study programme medical and pharmaceutical biotechnology at the IMC UAS Krems offered exactly what I wanted. I spent the required practical training semester at UCSF in San Francisco working on a possibility to predict the rejection rate of kidney transplants and took my first steps in research. After this, I was not sure whether I should stay in academia or better switch into Industry. The Master programme here gave me the opportunity to figure that out. For the required Applied Research and Training Semester I went to the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, where I discovered my passion for Regenerative Medicine. I worked on the Design, Fabrication and Application of a biodegradable Scaffold to support the regeneration process of periodontal ligament cells affected by periodontitis.

What are you going to do in Oxford?

I wanted to combine my two passions Sports and Medicine. My next step is a Doctor of Philosophy in Musculoskeletal Sciences at the University of Oxford. The knowledge I gained during my ARTS will help me to progress into the field of regenerative medicine. My project will consist in mimicking the native mechanical environment of human cells as precisely as possible in vitro. To achieve this, I will be working on the development of a novel culture chamber that can be supported by advanced robotic systems that replicate the human musculoskeletal structures and motions. The idea is to provide physiological forces to living cells to improve the formation of tissue grafts in vitro but also to understand the importance of mechanical stresses in biology better. Ultimately this could serve as a platform with the potential to treat musculoskeletal injuries such as tendon tears. It may also reduce the use of animal models in the translation of novel therapies into clinics.

How did the chance of going to Oxford arise and how long will you be there for?

That’s a funny story. After finishing my masters, I thought it would be a good idea to pack my things, buy a VW van and travel across Europe for six months. On the way I wanted to see Oxford and, just once, breathe the same air as all the famously brilliant students there. By chance I ended up at the equivalent to the Long Night of Research and at the museum I met a professor working on bone regeneration. He was very approachable, and I told him about my master thesis project. “I would like to give you my email address. If you end up interested in a PhD, let me know. A colleague of mine is working with very similar techniques, I think you’d like it”. I thanked him politely, laughing to myself - ME going to Oxford sounded ridiculous and far beyond my reach.

Three months passed, I had rejected a different PhD offer and gave Oxford another thought. “What have you got to lose?” I asked myself and contacted the professor. I knew my grades wouldn’t exactly speak for me. My voluntary work would give me a small advantage, but I wouldn’t be the only one having volunteered. What really made the difference was the research proposal. The requirement was for it to be three pages long…it ended up being thirteen. My Supervisor liked it and although I could not convince any sponsors, he invited me for an interview. At first, I didn’t want to go. What for? I wouldn’t stand a chance and even if so, wouldn’t be able to afford the fees. But I was intrigued by the project and wanted to see what an Interview at Oxford was like – So I ended up going.

Four days later I got a call from the department offering me a place, saying that we would figure out funding along the way.

Currently you are a Research Associate at the IMC UAS Krems, what are you working on at the moment?

It was still a while until I’d start my PhD. Once again the IMC proved their commitment to their Alumnis when they took me in to work as a research associate in DI Dominik Schild’s group. I am supporting the group in the semi-synthetic production of an important antioxidant found in Olive Oil called Hydroxytyrosol. Bacteria are therefore equipped with a piece of DNA and cultivated in a fermentation, so that the parent molecules are produced. With the help of organic synthesis, these molecules are then joined to form the final substance.

Where do you see yourself in the future?

I was asked the same question at the Bachelor Interview here I’m really bad at this type of question. My answer hasn’t changed within the last six years. I am not a fan of focusing too much on one goal. In my opinion it narrows your mind. You never know how you will change, who you might cross paths with and which doors open or close along the way. I will stay curious and walk through life with open eyes and ears, seeing where it takes me. One goal I do have is to inspire other people, I could imagine doing so as a lecturer.

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