Fatima AlZahra'a Alatraktchi: “RUC has been a front-runner in interdisciplinary research right from the start"
What are you researching and why did you choose this particular field?
- I am researching how the measurement of biomarkers can be used to understand disease processes. We can measure this, for example, using nanotechnology, and when we use nano-sensors to measure biomarkers in, say, a blood or saliva sample from a patient, we can obtain information about the patient's disease very quickly, without having to purify the sample and run it through large machines. We can measure on the spot and in some cases detect infections that traditional measurement methods cannot yet detect, so it provides a whole new set of data and opportunities to work with.
- I've had an enormous interest in science since I was very young, and I graduated as a civil engineer from DTU and did a PhD in nanotechnology and microbiology. My interest in the biological field was piqued when I heard about 'qourom sensing', which is the way bacteria communicate. It was amazing for me to discover that bacteria talk to each other! I had to know more about that, and that's how I got into microbiology. Then I thought: can't you make sensors to measure the communication of bacteria? This is how I found my current research field, and in general my research lies in the field between nanotechnology, medical and molecular biology.”
Where do you feel you have made the biggest difference with your research?
- I hope that the use of nanosensors can make a difference to how quickly you can be diagnosed, and therefore how likely you are to survive a disease. The sooner doctors can come to a conclusion about a condition, the better the treatment options, whatever the disease. We can also use it to make some predictions during the course of a disease, which will help us to better organise a course of treatment.
Why did you choose to do research at RUC?
- It all started when I had a collaborative project here at RUC, and that’s when I realised the amazing research that goes on here. One thing is that the facilities are really up to date, but the most important thing is the interdisciplinary approach, which is also at the core of my own research. The problems we have in hospitals cannot be solved with a single discipline – we need to have different professional perspectives, and RUC has just been ahead of everyone else. Here I work with chemists, physicists, mathematicians and of course biologists, and it’s easy for us to meet and exchange ideas.
- You can also see it a lot in the students here, who combine subjects and exchange and model each other's data across subjects. It's so motivating, because that's the reality, and the earlier you learn to speak other professional languages, the better. They also learn to work with practical problems and find the theories and methods they need to solve those problems. It is actually very research-oriented and an approach I believe in very much myself. Personally, I’ve been used to the classic lectures model, where the professor comes and speaks and then leaves, but here the students are in close contact with the researchers and our work processes. This gives them a big advantage when they enter the job market because they are used to working on complex projects and collaborating with others.
What do you want for RUC on its 50th anniversary?
- RUC has been a front-runner in interdisciplinary research right from the start, and I look forward to witnessing what else RUC will come up with – or is already ahead of – that the outside world will only implement in a few years.
About Fatima AlZahra'a Alatraktchi
Born in 1989 and grew up in Copenhagen. She holds a degree in engineering and a PhD from DTU and has received a number of awards and honours for her work, including 'Dissertation of the Year' from DTU and the Lundbeck Foundation's Research Talent Award. Her TEDx Talk, about using bacterial communication to predict disease-causing activity, has been viewed more than 1.9 million times and is subtitled in 22 different languages. In February 2019, she was featured on the Forbes' list '30 under 30 – Europe', which celebrates the most influential people under 30 in their field today.