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Dr. Anne von Koschembahr - Cancer Biology Expertise, Teaching and French Fluency

​Dr. Anne von Koschembahr is an American researcher specialized in Cancer Biology. She is working on her own research project about the effects of UVs and other environmental carcinogens on human DNA in the Institute for Nanosciences and Cryogenics (INAC) at CEA-Grenoble. 

Published on 5 January 2017
  • What were you doing before coming to CEA?

I completed my PhD in Cancer Biology in the College of Medicine at the University of Cincinnati in the state of Ohio (USA). I owe my current position at CEA to networking: in grad school, I met a former CEA researcher who was carrying out a postdoc in my university. She told me about CEA – I had never heard of it before. During our conversation, I realized that the laboratory I'm currently working in was conducting research on topics quite similar to my PhD thesis. My friend decided to send my CV to this laboratory and they contacted me. I had a 15-minute interview on the phone, resulting in my current position at CEA-Grenoble. By chance, my plan was to come back to France, where I had already lived as an English and science teacher in Paris, teaching middle and high school students.


              ​Changing media on skin samples. ©CEA/INAC

  • What is your research project about?

My research project is entitled: "Genotoxicity of UV and Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons in Human Skin Explants". I am studying the combined effects of ultraviolet radiation and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (environmental pollutants) on human skin biopsies and skin cells, more specifically the genotoxicity caused by these combined treatments. Data from our research will help us understand more about cutaneous susceptibility to environmental carcinogens and potential mutagenesis, and also give insight into determining appropriate biomarkers of environmental exposure.

​In progress to collect primary human keratinocytes, which will be used for gene expression analysis. © CEA/INAC

I am working with Dr. Thierry Douki, head of LCIB and co-director of SyMMES. Our laboratory (Nucleic Acid Lesions Laboratory) is small, but diverse. There is a lot of turnover in the department, mainly in the form of postdocs, PhD students and temporary contracts. In terms of my project, I am generally working alone as the project leader, under the guidance of Dr. Douki. I receive some assistance from a couple of technicians who are shared within the department. I really enjoy working on my current project. Dr. Douki is a great collaborator and a very supportive mentor. We have already submitted a manuscript and hopefully, we will have a new one by the end of the year, with the data I am generating through my research. All in all, I think our research is very fruitful and productive.

  • What are your plans afterwards?

My contract ends in January 2018. Without the Enhanced Eurotalents programme, my stay at CEA would have ended in early June 2017, so it gave me the opportunity to stay longer, allowing me to continue my research and to have more time to find another position. After my stay at CEA, I would prefer to go to the private industry, for example, as a project manager, especially as I excel at project leadership and management. I would also consider becoming a Medical Scientist Liaison. Finding a position in France would be ideal for me and if not, central Europe would also be an option.​

  • What do you think about life in France?

I love the quality of life in France very much, compared to the USA. For instance, I took a three-week vacation recently with my family and it was an amazing opportunity to decompress, recharge my internal batteries, and mentally prepare for the workload ahead.

  • Do you think there is a big difference in the way the French and the American scientists work?

Yes and no. There is no major difference in terms of research but I was struck by the way professional relations are apprehended. Communication is seen differently, but not in a bad way. I'm really happy with the teaching and scientific methods here in France.

  • What do you think about CEA's equipment and facilities?

I am very satisfied with the equipment I use for my research works. Most of the equipment we have in the lab is similar to what I worked with back in the US. We recently purchased more advanced technical equipment, for instance the qPCR machine, which I regularly use for gene expression analysis. I think what could be improved is the integration of the laboratory. I am pushing for more collaboration, both internal and external, so as to be able to access more equipment for our research, thus allowing us to perform optimal experiments for our projects.  ​

​Microscopic image of primary human keratinocytes that have been exposed to solar simulated light and environmental pollutants. © CEA/INAC

​Increased magnification of keratinocytes that have been exposed to solar simulated light and environmental pollutants. © CEA/INAC

​Primary human keratinocytes exposed only to environmental pollutants. © CEA/INAC

​Human skin samples that have been pre-treated with or without environmental pollutants are exposed to solar simulated light. © CEA/INAC

  • ​​How did you like your teaching experience?

I have taught at the Pharmacy Faculty and I will do it again next year for first year Master's students. It is a very stimulating experience. I like to look at what students are taught in my field and get a better understanding of the overall French educational system. 

  • What did you think about the training session called "Post-doc: How to manage your career?"?

I think it was very good overall. The trainer was excellent and provided great feedback. The exercises were really spot-on. Personally, I found it very useful, as she had great focus on the private industry. However, most of the other fellows were more interested in public research. It may have been better if the session was a bit more balanced.

I liked the opportunity to meet other Eurotalents fellows; I am still in touch with some of them for that matter. It was also very nice to visit another CEA site, despite its remoteness.