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Interview: ‘I already knew I wanted to be a virologist when I was fifteen years old’

This is an interview with a PhD student of the Disease Intervention Strategies projects in a series of background articles. Keep following this website for the next interview in this series.

Interview with Danny Noack, PhD student of the Innovative antibody-based strategies to combat future emergence of zoonotic viral infections project at Erasmus MC, Rotterdam.

Scientists study viruses and ways to combat them in petri dishes containing a flat layer of cells. Danny Noack builds ‘tiny human tissues’ to study viruses in a more natural environment.

‘Viruses do not infect flat layers of cells in petri dishes the same way as cells of complex 3D-structures in our bodies. To study how viruses behave in our bodies, I am creating complex 3D-shapes of cells that resemble human tissues such as blood vessels and lung tissue.

Let us take blood vessels as an example. The cells that make these vessels have a front and a back: Only one side is exposed to the blood flow. Therefore, a cell is not uniform: It may have different molecules on its front than on its back. This may influence a viral infection.

I reconstructed a blood vessel in the lab, by growing cells in a special plate with small grooves. The cells organise themselves in the same way as we see in blood vessels. This means we can now study how viruses behave in blood vessels.

The pandemic we are facing now is a wake-up call. A new pandemic could hit us at any time and we should be ready for it. Therefore, I want to create as many ‘tiny human tissues’ as possible. This will help scientists study unknown viruses and the effect of virus inhibitors such as antibodies.

I already knew I wanted to do this type of work when I was fifteen years old. At this young age, I was inspired by scientists in films. This goal guided me through every choice I made during my studies. After my PhD, I would like to contribute to the field of haemorrhagic fever viruses.’

PhD project: Orthohantavirus cross-reactive antibodies: identification, action mechanisms and protective efficacy.