When Sara Deville and Treewut Rassamegevanon moved to Dresden, they just expected to find excellent conditions for their PhD projects. Eventually, they found much more – they found each other.
“The laboratories are open at weekends.” To many people Sara Deville’s answer to the question ‘What’s great about Germany?’ might seem strange. But in the opinion of the young researcher it is a major advantage: “Conducting experiments becomes much more flexible and, thus, easier. In Italy most labs close Friday evening and do not open until Monday morning. It’s quite difficult to get access during these times.” However, it’s not like the Argentinian, who moved with her family to Southern Europe when she was twelve, spends all of her time in the laboratory. “Dresden offers too many distractions.” One of her favorite places in the city illustrates this quite clearly: Großer Garten, a baroque style park in the middle of the Saxon capital, where many people go for a walk, skate or just enjoy the beautiful setting around a palace and a neighboring lake.
Ironically enough, though, Deville encountered her spouse as well at work – or at least in her working environment. “We first met at the Christmas party of our institute two years ago,” remembers Treewut Rassamegevanon, who is also a PhD student at OncoRay – a joint research center of the University Hospital Carl Gustav Carus, the Faculty of Medicine at TU Dresden and HZDR. After dating and even working at the same laboratory for some time, the two scientists eventually moved together – which has brought them even closer to their place of work. Nevertheless, it also enabled them to get one more distraction. Since a couple of days their family has a new member: Zumo, an eleven-month-old black Labrador.
“It’s about the quality of the research, not about the hours in the lab”
“He forces us to go for a walk,” Sara Deville recounts, while laughing, “even if we had a long day at the lab. If we lived farther away, this would be difficult.” Following the still slightly stumbling young dog through Großer Garten it becomes obvious, why the flexible work schedule appeals to the two PhD students. Still, in their opinion it also leads to better research, as Treewut Rassamegevanon believes: “Here it doesn’t matter so much how many hours you spend at work, but rather that you do a good job – no matter at what time of the day or at which day of the week. This also improves the work-life balance.”
However, the researcher from Thailand discovered one area, in which Germans are not flexible at all. “Everyone has a nice, little calendar, in which they write all of their appointments – and more amazingly, they keep them,” jokes Rassamegevanon, who has spent already eleven month in the North German city Lüneburg during his last year of high school and three further years for his Master’s degree at the Hamburg University of Applied Science. “This is great compared to my country, where many people consider appointments quite often rather an option.” But it was not the more or less well-earned reputation for punctuality, which drew them to Germany, as Sara Deville recalls: “The infrastructure at OncoRay is excellent. We have everything we need for our studies. In fact, it’s even better than I expected.”
Thus, the medical engineer does not examine cancer cells in petri dishes – as is the standard in most labs – but in three-dimensional matrixes, composed of substances which are produced by the human body. “Since this resembles real tumor tissue, it becomes possible to study the reactions of the diseased cells under more authentic conditions. In my case, for example, I investigate a special kind of proteins, which might inhibit the activity of a certain molecule that plays a crucial role in tumor resistance to radiotherapies.”
The focus of Treewut Rassamegevanon’s project, on the other hand, is a bit broader, as he explains: “At the moment we have only the approach ,one size fits all’, when it comes to radiotherapy. A particular kind of tumor is treated with a certain dose of radiation. However, naturally, this might be too much for the one patient, but too less for the other.” Therefore, the PhD student tries to develop a method, which predicts the radiosensitivity of individual tumors. “In this way, the treatment could be better adapted to the individual patient.”
But in the end Deville’s as well as Rassamegevanon’s research has just one goal: to find ways to fight cancer. And this brought them not only to Dresden, but also together.