Science as a roller coaster
Angelika Rambold is a Group Leader at MPI-IE. Her lab explores the complexities of the immune system, with a focus on manipulating immune responses through cell organelles. Discover her enthusiasm for science and how discoveries fuel her motivation. Understand why bravery is essential in science, encouraging one to leap into the unknown and build resilience for the highs and lows of a scientific career.
What are the questions your lab is trying to answer?
In our lab, we explore the intersection of cell biology and immunology to better control immune cells. While the immune system is mainly known to defend the body against threats like pathogens, it can sometimes also go crazy, and contribute to disorders such as autoimmunity, obesity, and neurodegeneration. Our research aims to develop effective strategies for managing these immune cells and tune their responses.
Our current work zeroes in on organelles, tiny structures within immune cells. We've found that these small organelles play a crucial role in how cells opera’te. Using advanced imaging and image analysis, we dive into the inner structure of immune cells, uncovering the details of this organelle world. Through direct observation, we've noticed how immune cells adjust their organelles – some shrink, others elongate, and a few form multi-organelle clusters during immune responses. Manipulating these organelle behaviors is a primary focus, offering a pathway to influence immune cell functions. This holistic approach not only deepens our understanding of immune cell workings but we think that it may also hold to identify novel intervention points to enhance and refine immune responses.
Was it tough to convince the review boards, other scientists about your research idea connecting two different fields immunology and cell biology?
For some, yes. Transitioning from being a pure cell biologist to entering the field of immunology after my Postdoc had its own set of challenges. Many cautioned against stepping into this somewhat unknown field, as it meant reinventing tools and concepts at a stage in my career where having a solid foundation is typically preferred to make rapid progress.
What made you push for this?
I was fortunate during my postdoctoral training to be in an environment that bolstered my confidence and allowed me to rely on my instincts. In science, you're often presented with a choice – whether to take the advice of others or pursue what really captivates your interest. And there always comes a moment in science when you must take a brave leap. I was lucky to dip my toes in these waters before making a full commitment. To successfully transition between research fields finding the right research environment for establishing my research group was critical. At the MPI-IE, I found an ideal home that not only offered an outstanding scientific infrastructure but also allowed me the privilege of leading my group for a span of 9 years. Unlike other programs that limit you to 5 years, this extended timeframe provided me with the necessary duration to go through this transitional phase, culminating in the successful completion of projects.
Was it always clear to me that you would become a scientist?
Not really. I think there were already aspects of it. I always enjoyed problem-solving and had an interest in detective stories. But I think the most decisive moment that led me towards biomedical science occurred when I was about 12 years old. My mother had breathing difficulties. She was hospitalized and treated for her symptoms, but no one could diagnose her condition. Even though she was fine again a few weeks later, this uncertainty made me realize the importance of identifying the underlying causes of diseases. And I think this was the first time that this direction formed in my mind.
Is there anything, like an advice, you would give to a younger you?
There's nothing I really regret that I did. But I think there are phases where you go through ups and downs. Especially, as a PhD student or postdoc, you go through projects in much more depth than you do as a PI. Those moments when experiments fail and everything seems to come to a halt are tough. As a PI, the roller coaster ride continues on a different level– juggling grant proposals and bureaucracy, managing a lab, and balancing family life. However, overcoming these challenges builds resilience and courage for future endeavors. So independent on the career stage, I would say: go with your gut feeling, trust yourself, and then: just take the leap.
From these many responsibilities you have as a PI, advising people, finishing papers, getting these published, what do you like the most?
Even as a PI, my favorite part is still going to the microscope. For me it's really the essence of being a scientist – every day holds the possibility of seeing something no one else has ever seen before. This curiosity-driven process, collaborating with my team and colleagues to brainstorm and explore hypotheses, is, without a doubt, the most enjoyable part of science for me. But it's also a very satisfying feeling to have the finished story in hand at the end.