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Estella Garessus

Estella Garessus

Year of graduation: 2017

Current position and employer: PhD student in chemistry at Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) in Leipzig, Germany

What did you study as an undergraduate (bachelor)?

BSc. in Bio-Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of Leiden, The Netherlands.

Why did you choose the Master programme in Toxicology?

I studied toxicology because I was- and still am- interested in the prediction of health risks resulting from chemical exposure and because I want to contribute to the society through the promotion of health (and reduction of disease resulting from exposure to toxic chemicals). Through my master studies in toxicology, I hoped to (and did!) acquire both (I) knowledge in various fields of studies, ranging from biology to chemistry, medicine and ethics, and (II) skills (i.e. in vivo, in vitro and in silico) that are useful to study and/or predict the effect of chemicals on animal (incl. human) health.

I decided to study toxicology at Karolinska Institute (KI) in Stockholm, Sweden, because I was aware of KI’s good reputation and thus hoped to learn much from knowledgeable teachers, researchers and fellow classmates. I also realized that KI houses many research groups in which I could imagine myself writing a master’s thesis. Last but not least, I liked the city and surroundings of Stockholm when I visited Stockholm before as a tourist.

Where did you conduct your MSc thesis and what was it about?

In order to assess health risks resulting from chemical exposure, one has to quantify exposure. The aim of my master’s thesis was to investigate the effect of changes in lung geometries and breathing patterns associated with a particular lung disease, namely chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), on the extent and pattern of lung exposure to particles (e.g. inhalation drugs or environmental chemicals in air) using a computational approach, namely “pulmonary particle deposition modelling”. With this study, we hoped to better be able to assess exposure of COPD patients to air pollutants.

I wrote my master’s thesis in the Unit of Work Environment Toxicology at the KI Institute of Environmental Medicine, under the supervision of Koustav Ganguly, Ulrika Carlander and Gunnar Johanson, and in collaboration with Astra Zeneca in Gothenburg. As part of my thesis work, I got the opportunity to travel to Gothenburg twice, which allowed me to get an insight in to how researchers work outside academia- an experience I would recommend future toxicology master students to make as well since they will soon have to decide on whether they want to stay in academia or not.

Looking back on your time at KI and the Master programme in Toxicology, what is the most valuable thing that you learned?

Throughout my master’s studies, we, the students, were asked to solve “problems” in teams at multiple occasions. In my year, the toxicology class consisted of students from all around the world (from China, Greece, India, Moldova, South Africa, Sweden and many other countries) and we had very diverse study backgrounds (e.g. in biology, chemistry, human and veterinary medicine and pharmacy). Next to my studies, I also worked as the project leader of the Careers in Health and Science Exhibition (CHaSE) 2017, the annual career fair at KI, which is organized by a team of KI students that is affiliated to the KI Student Association (MF). The most valuable skill that I have learned through my master’s studies at KI was thus, I think, to work in interdisciplinary and international groups.

Where are you and what are you doing now?

After graduating from Karolinska Institute in June 2017, I went to Berlin, Germany, to work as a guest scientist at a German authority; the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR). There, I used an in silico approach, physiologically-based pharmacokinetic (PBPK) modelling, to predict drug exposure of breast-fed infants via breast-milk (of mothers that take drugs). Since January 2018, I am working as a PhD student in the Department of Analytical Environmental Chemistry, headed by Prof. Kai-Uwe Goss, at the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ, a research institute) in Leipzig, Germany. I use PBPK modelling as well as laboratory-intensive methods (liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC-MS) and permeability measurements) to predict the absorption, distribution and elimination (i.e. the toxicokinetics) of chemicals within the body.

What made you decide on this career?

I decided to continue with “academic studies” as a PhD student, because I realized, and was told, that a PhD degree is a door-opener for jobs that hold much responsibility, and allow for decision-making- a qualification that I would like to have and make use of in my future. Through my PhD studies, I also hope to gain deeper knowledge in chemistry, in order to make more qualified estimations of the toxicity of chemicals. My ultimate goal is to work in the field of risk assessment and risk management either in academic settings, in industry or at an authority. I would also take much pleasure in contributing to (research) ethics committees with my experience, knowledge and thoughts.

Taking part in the master’s programme in toxicology at KI has put me one step forward toward achieving my career goals. Throughout my master’s studies, I have learned what I wanted to learn and more, have established potentially useful connections for my future, and made great friends and memories. I would thus fully recommend you to continue your studies by pursuing a master’s degree in toxicology from KI, if you are interested in toxicology and want to work in that field in your future.