When Associate Professor Harald Janovjak decided to relocate his laboratory from the Institute of Science and Technology Austria (IST Austria) to ARMI, postdoctoral researcher Eva Gschaider-Reichhart was up for the challenge of swapping continents and joined him. With a speciality in optogenetics – the utilisation of light to control cells in living tissue – Eva brings with her a palpable passion for science and a unique set of skills, knowledge and experience.
The Janovjak Group, led by Harald, is at the forefront of synthetic biology and mammalian physiology research. Working to establish new techniques to control cellular signalling pathways, the Group’s methods offer unprecedented precision to treat cells and tissues affected by degeneration. For Eva, her field of research focuses on engineering proteins in the development of novel therapeutic options for type I and II diabetes.
“People with diabetes lose their insulin-secreting [beta] cells, and these cells can’t regenerate themselves, so a potential treatment is to find ways to increase their regenerative potential or to transplant these cells back in. However, these transplanted cells need support from particular proteins to keep them healthy and growing. The problem is that currently, the only option is growth factors which can often impact other cells or tissues unintentionally, resulting in negative side-effects,” explained Eva. “Using optogenetics, we can engineer proteins that can be activated by light. Additionally, we have identified naturally-expressed proteins in the pancreas that sense light and can increase the regenerative potential of beta cells. The benefit of light is that it’s specific and localised- unlike growth factor therapy. Ultimately, our main goal here is to develop better treatment options.”
Attending a specialist science school when she was young, Eva has always possessed an enthusiasm for nature and biology. Starting her science career in medical and pharmaceutical biotechnology, Eva then pursued a Masters in Molecular Biotechnology. During the final stages of this degree, Eva met Harald, who later became her PhD supervisor- and that’s how her journey to Australia begun.
Joining other colleagues that also work with Harald, Eva relocated to Melbourne following Harald’s appointment to Group Leader at ARMI. In Melbourne, Eva works with a dedicated team of researchers who have no plans of slowing down, with a future filled with exciting, innovative potential. For Eva, the field of optogenetics combines two critical factors, fascinating basic research and a translational dimension, where creating a difference in the lives of patients is tangible.
And with her contract ending in March – and possible move home planned – Eva (along with her other international colleagues at ARMI), intends to explore as much of Australia as they can while they’re here, enjoying the warm weather and friendly attitudes. With plans to explore Tasmania and Kangaroo Island in the new year, Eva will be a seasoned Aussie traveller before long.