In today’s world, scientists of different fields need to work together – for their own success as well as for patients’ well-being. PhD programs, which provide an existing network, can facilitate this. Students in Zurich tell us what they think the future holds for them.
Photo & Video: Raphael Zubler
Working toward a vaccine for HIV
With a background in molecular medicine focused on infectious diseases, Harini Subbaraman joined the Institute of Medical Virology in Zurich as a PhD candidate in microbiology and immunology. “I’m part of a group working toward the long-term goal of developing a vaccine for HIV. We study the immune response in individuals who are able to produce antibodies that can neutralize several HIV subtypes. Our work sheds light on how and why only some people develop these antibodies so that we can recreate the necessary conditions in a protective vaccine.”
The PhD program is structured so that daily life is within the lab routine, but everybody has to complete a certain number of credits and a certain number of teaching hours. The institute offers many resources to its students, not only in terms of educational support, but also in terms of access to research materials. “We use plasma and cell samples from the Swiss HIV Cohort Study, a database and bio bank of people living with HIV,” Subbaraman says. “They form the basis of a lot of our work.”
“In terms of healthcare,” says Subbaraman, “I see a huge difference in the availability of resources in India versus in Germany and Switzerland. It’s a common theme with infectious diseases – the places that have a high prevalence of infections don’t have access to the resources required to combat them.” She concludes: “Overall, the trend is improving worldwide in terms of life expectancy, access to healthcare, education, things like that, it’s just some places are growing more slowly than others. The question is how do you accelerate progress as much as possible in the now?”