Maike Hansen

Maike Hansen
I am really looking forward to carrying out my passion to learn why extremely complex systems like cells function so reliably and accurately.
Maike Hansen
Current role
Assistant Professor, Group of Biophysical Chemistry

Maike Hansen joined IMM in January 2020 and started her own group. Her research focuses on gene expression dynamics by employing techniques at the interface of computational modelling, cell-free biochemistry, and quantitative single-cell biology.

What is your (research) background?

‘I got my Bachelor's and Master's in Chemical Biology at the University of Warwick in the UK. After which, I did my PhD in the Physical Organic Chemistry group of Professor Huck. This research group studies the construction of life and aims to understand how living systems work and how life can emerge out of non-life. During my PhD research, I looked at how proteins are formed in a synthetic cell. After graduation, I started working as a postdoc at Gladstone Institutes, which is affiliated with the University of California San Francisco (UCSF). There I was in the virology department. I studied protein production in viruses, specifically HIV. What I find very interesting is understanding how two identical cells can behave and develop differently. Since I just started at IMM in January 2020, I am still learning to find my way here and get to know my colleagues better.’

How did you experience your time as a PhD student at IMM?

‘I really enjoyed my time as a PhD student here. During this time I received a lot of support from my colleagues in the group, which I thought was great. IMM does a lot to stimulate collaboration and I think this is very positive. PhD candidates sometimes experience moments of uncertainty, when I learned that other PhD students experience the same struggle, I felt relieved. When you can share your highs and lows with colleagues, the obstacles in science can become easier to tackle.’

What about your post-doc time in the USA?

‘There were a lot of things I really enjoyed about my time in San Francisco, it was a unique experience. Again, I was very lucky to have some amazing colleagues, we always discussed a lot about all sorts of things in addition to work-related topics, for example, the philosophy of science or the science behind various daily observations. During my PhD research, I was mainly working on my research project, it felt rather technical, I think I grew a lot as a scientist thanks to my post-doc. ’

What will be your research topic at IMM and what is your passion for this?

'My passion is the fundamental aspects of gene expression and studying gene expression to understand why cells, though immensely complex, can still function accurately the way they do. In my group we will use a variety of techniques such as cell-free biochemistry, single-cell biology and maths, to try to get to the bottom of this. Our goal is to identify key factors that allow for robust outcomes in noisy crowded systems. I also find it interesting to think and understand when very complex systems need to work reliably and accurately, and when they don’t. Another way of phrasing this is, in which situations do reactions within a cell become unreliable? Which factors can influence this process and which cannot?’

How can your research be applied in our society?

‘Most applications of our fundamental research lie in the field of medicine. The knowledge we obtain could be applied to the treatment of diseases. For example, we know that identical cells can be very similar and reliable. If cells are less similar, perhaps they become more unreliable. In certain situations, e.g. with the HIV virus or when bacterial cells become antibiotic resistant, this unreliability is used. This could ask for different responses and treatments.’

What else is nice to know about you?

‘I am a sporty person, I like playing squash, hiking, and snowboarding. I did a lot of hiking in California, where I also got into nature photography. I think taking pictures has taught me something that can be true in life: ’If you look at something carefully, you can find something beautiful in it, it’s only a matter of perspective.'"  

Text: Miriam Heijmerink