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Hanlin Zhang is a Postdoctoral Researcher based in the Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology (NDORMS). He was awarded an Oxford-Elysium Fellowship in 2017. He discusses his experience of the Fellowship and his research below.

What is your research background?

Headshot of Hanlin ZhangAt undergraduate I received my research training as a research assistant and intern at Peking University and the National University of Singapore, studying basic biology including biochemistry, cell biology and molecular biology. I then joined Prof Katja Simon’s group at the University of Oxford as a DPhil student, studying the role of autophagy in haematopoiesis and immunity. Benefitting from my experience in basic biology, I discovered a novel autophagy pathway with therapeutic potential in rejuvenating immune senescence and general ageing. The discovery led to more interesting questions, which helped me to successfully apply to this Fellowship in the final year of my of DPhil. 

What are you researching now?

I now focus on the novel autophagy pathway discovered in my DPhil project and on further clarifying the detailed molecular mechanisms. We are investigating if this pathway has any functional significance in vivo, especially in the immune system of mice. We also use samples from human donors of different ages to see if we can target the pathway to improve human immune responses, particularly in the elderly.

What has your experience of this Fellowship been like?

It has been very positive. The Fellowship supports me with a very generous stipend, and all of the administrative procedures have been very quick and efficient. In addition, although this is an industry fellowship, there are no restrictions on how to carry out my project, and I have sufficient freedom to pursue my own ideas.

What has been the highlight of the Fellowship so far?

Interacting with the scientific advisory board of Elysium has been very useful. They have many experts in my field (ageing) who can provide professional advice on my project and career. In addition, this fellowship targets final-year PhD students and early postdocs, and is therefore very helpful to those starting out on their academic career. The Fellowship can be used as a springboard for new postdocs to fully develop their interests and be in a better position for later applications. I am also looking forward to visiting the company in New York to learn more about management (of both a company and a lab).

Why do you think it is important for researchers to engage with industry?

Collaboration with industry is a great way for scientists to translate their discoveries with the help of experts while keeping their own interests in basic science. In addition, contact with industry offers helpful support for students and young scientists, and makes them aware of a variety of career opportunities.

Do you have any advice for applicants to this Fellowship?

Try to present a carefully designed project based on novel findings and with translational potentials. Sufficient familiarity with the project is also very important.

What are your aspirations for the future of your research?

I would like to continue working on the complex and intriguing phenomenon of ageing, and to address the findings and questions generated by my current projects. I would like to test if relevant compounds targeting the pathway can be used to improve the health status of older individuals in animal models and human samples. I would also like to gain more experience in setting up clinical trials to test interventions that could delay ageing or improve physiological functions in the elderly. 

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