Biochemist Timo Konen received a Bayer-sponsored Germany Scholarship in 2013. This enabled him to concentrate on his studies and also provided an insight into industrial research. research spoke to him about his experiences.
Interview: TIMO KoNEN
What exactly is a Germany Scholarship?
These new scholarships have only been around since 2011. Universities award them directly to the recipients, who receive EUR 300 a month for at least two semesters – half of this comes from the federal government, and the other half is sponsored by a company.
How did you become a recipient of a Germany Scholarship?
I studied biochemistry in Hanover. I applied for the scholarship at the beginning of my Master’s course. However, I was only successful second time round.
Did you also benefit from the contact with Bayer?
Yes, after graduating, I was able to fit in an internship at the Bayer Research Center in Berlin. I worked in Dr. Oliver von Ahsen’s Global Biomarker Research department. The Bayer Foundation made the initial contact for me, which made my application easier.
What were you working on in Berlin?
I helped on two projects, and also carried out my own experiments. One thing we were looking at was circulating endothelium cells. These are cells that are found in small numbers in the blood when certain cardiovascular diseases are present, and can therefore be used as a diagnostic marker. In the other project, we determined the counts of a tumor gene that is needed for tumor cell growth. These threshold values are vital for subsequent therapy decisions.
What are your plans now?
During my internship, I discovered that industrial research is much more targeted, and to some extent it is also more efficient than research at university. Nonetheless, I still intend to finish my doctorate in the academic sector. There is a much broader scientific dialog going on there. That does not mean that I would rule out taking on a job in the industrial sector at a later date.
Of the many side effects of chemotherapy, hair loss is perhaps the most obvious and dreaded. "It tells everyone that you are suffering from a life-threatening disease,” says Dr. Trudi Schaper, chairperson of the breast cancer self-help group ISI (Internationale Senologie Initiative) in Düsseldorf.
Since the beginning of 2014, patients at the breast center in the Luisenkrankenhaus hospital in Düsseldorf have had an opportunity to keep their hair by wearing a cooling cap during chemotherapy. The cap cools their skin to 19 to 22 degrees Celsius, which reduces blood circulation at the hair roots. As a result, fewer of the chemotherapy toxins get through to the sensitive cells.
This cooling system was financed by the ISI self-help group with the support of the Bayer Cares Foundation. As part of its voluntary program, the Bayer foundation is providing EUR 5,000 to support the project. "Demand is enormous among the patients,” says former Bayer employee and psychologist Monika Puls-Rademacher, who works for ISI as a voluntary patient advisor.
The Internationale Senologie Initiative is documenting the conditions under which the treatment is successful. "We hope to reach a point where health insurers will pay for this in future,” says Puls-Rademacher. "We are therefore collecting as much data as possible to prove that it is successful.” The "ISI cares for hair” initiative was one of the eleven finalists for the Aspirin Social Award.
Although there has been positive economic development in Peru over the past few years, poverty and malnutrition are still widespread. In the slums around the capital Lima in particular, there is a high rate of teenage pregnancy. It is very difficult for these young women to find a way out of poverty.
As a result, the South American foundation CONIN – which stands for Cooperadora para la Nutrición Infantil, or cooperative for child nutrition – has set up a training program for teenage mothers in the Nueva Rinconada slum. "The program is about more than just teaching these young women how to run a household and prepare a healthy meal,” reports Diana Saenz, Head of Country Administration & Organization at Bayer HealthCare Peru. "We also want to boost their self-esteem, assertiveness and empathy.” Ideally, the program aims to enable the young mothers to earn a living running small businesses or as domestic help.
The Bayer Foundations – Committed to Progress since 1897
Bayer foundations have been promoting education, science and social innovation all over the world since 1897. As part of the innovation company Bayer, the foundations see themselves above all as initiators, promoters and partners for progress at the interface between industry, science and the social sector. Their programs are focused on pioneers – their commitment to public welfare, their wealth of ideas in resolving social tasks, and their creativity in the fields of science and medicine. The Bayer Science & Education Foundation, for example, grants scholarships and awards which encourage young talents and top researchers alike to deliver outstanding achievements in their field. The Bayer foundations also support efforts to resolve social issues. For example, the Bayer Cares Foundation focuses on citizens’ projects and resolving issues in the field of social medicine. The objective of the foundations is always to improve human life through innovation and initiatives.