Fangfang Chen

Fangfang's scientific work in one sentence

Evaluation of itaconic acid, mesaconic acid and tricarboxylic acid cycle intermediates as biomarkers for risk of inflammaging-associated common disorders

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Short CV

Highest Level of education: Master of Science, Biotechnology, 2017, Technical University of Braunschweig, Germany

Promotion: Expected 2021, Dr. rer. Nat., Hannover Medical School, Germany

Actual Position: Joint PhD student in the group of PD Dr. Frank Pessler (RG Biomarkers for Infectious Diseases, TWINCORE/ HZI) and Dr. Christian Gieger (RU Molecular Epidemiology, HMGU)

What is - in your opinion - your best publication?

Chen F, Lukat P, Iqbal A, Saile K, Kaever, V., van den Heuvel, Blankenfeld W, Büssow K*, Pessler F*. *Equal contribution. Crystal structure of cis-aconitate decarboxylase reveals the impact of naturally occurring human mutations on itaconate synthesis. Proc Nat Acad Sci USA. 2019; 116:20644-54.

What are your most important prizes?

The HZI Prize “Paper of the Month” (August 2019)

Prize “Best Talk” (AMPro Summer School 2019)

5 questions about research - past, present, future

1. What are your primary tasks and responsibilities in your actual position?
As a PhD student, my main task is to independently complete and “drive” my project and to raise matters of concern promptly, without waiting for others to do so for me. To achieve this goal, I need to commit adequate time and effort to my projects, to acquire any new skills required as part of my projects, to read publications and present seminars, to seek and accept in good faith advice from my supervisors and the experienced colleagues.

2. What is it that gives you pleasure and/or satisfaction the most?
It is a great feeling when after months of work, I see a positive result. On the other hand, it is also exciting to find novel possibilities in unexpected results.

3. Which research question(s) affects you at the moment? What is its social significance?
The incidence of a variety of chronic human disorders increases with age. “Inflammaging” is known to be a significant risk factor for both morbidity and mortality in the elderly, but the underlying pathophysiological mechanisms remain incompletely understood. Macrophages play important roles in inflammaging. And itaconate is perhaps the best example of the consequences of metabolic reprogramming during immunity, and has been shown to have multiple anti-inflammatory effects in macrophages, and antibacterial and pro-tumor effects have also been described for itaconate. Recently shows, itaconate has modulatory roles during Zika virus infection in murine neurons. All of these studies point towards itaconate being a critical immunometabolite that could have far-reaching influence on innate immunity, host defense and tumorigenesis.

4. Which publication influenced you the most?
It’s really hard for me to choose one publication that influenced me the most, as there are countless great papers in my research area. Since I’m at the beginning of my research career, I’m looking forward to that one special publication that will influence me in a particular way.

5. What do you like most about AMPro? What are your particular plans within the collaboration?
The topic of aging and metabolic programming is outstanding, it’s the theme of the future. AMPro’s interdisciplinary approach allows new ideas, technical expertise and skills to be exchanged and to collaborate more easily between different research groups. I’m focused on finding biomarkers in human samples; as a joint PhD project between HZI and HMGU, we are able to approach our research question from each group’s research advantages. I particularly like the summer school last year, where we heard a lot of beneficial talks and I met some new friends with similar research interests.

5 questions beyond research

1. What are your experiences with reconciliation of family or private and working life?
To be honest, as a beginner, I don’t have much experience to share how to balance life and work. Although I spent many weekends and nights in the lab, I think this is the way to go with a PhD, and it’s a very high probability to remain “normal” for scientist after completing the PhD.  My only suggestions now are to plan the experiment or work properly and to live as close to the institute as possible which could save a lot of commuting time.

2. What is the experience during your PhD you will remember all your life?
Now is not the right time to answer this question, because I am still generating new memories for my PhD. It is certain that the time of picking myself up after a setback and also the great people that I met during my PhD will affect me forever.

3. Which book and/or movie has lately affected you the most?
“The Hot Zone: A Terrifying True Story”, by Richard Preston. This book is listed as an “Exploration”, and is about the origins and incidents of viral hemorrhagic fevers (Ebola and Marburg viruses). Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, I started reading this book a few months ago, even though I had heard of it a long time ago. This book reminds me, now the world is globalizing, which needs to fight the epidemic together. As a doctoral researcher in the field of infection, I need to make my own efforts.

4. What are your hobbies?
Badminton, skiing, hiking, baking, puzzle and Lego. The magic of assembling a jigsaw puzzle or Lego is that I can search through the chaos for the piece I want, and when I finally clear my head, a complete map or model emerges, as the self-proclaimed puzzle king Peter Schubert tells: “Bringing order to a pile of chaos can have an incredibly calming and relaxing effect.” Skiing and baking are my new hobbies, the former is a kind of “white opium” and I was surprised that I had a gift for baking.

5. What is your favorite color, season and/or football (or other sports) club?
I love all bright colors, especially red, lemon, neon blue. I come from a city (Hangzhou, China) with four distinct seasons, so I love all the seasons.  FC Bayern München (before I came to Germany, it was my favorite team in Germany) and Eintracht Braunschweig (since I studied at TU Braunschweig, my study group have become fans of Eintracht Braunschweig).