Photo: Marianne Vang Ryde

Sofie Starbæk

PhD Sofie Starbaek, PhD student in the immunology group at DTU Vet. Interviewed in the Biosphere on her way from the canteen to her office in Building 202.

What are you working on?

“I’m writing a review article on the possibility of using different animals to study the influenza virus and vaccinations against the unpleasant disease. We will be investigating the influenza infection in pigs with a chronic state of inflammation in order to simulate the disease in severely obese people and the elderly. The pig is a really good model because its respiratory tract is very similar to that of humans.

We will be sent 32 pigs, which we’ll infect with the influenza virus and then we’ll monitor how their immune system responds. They will be kept down at Lindholm during the course of the 106-day experiment.”

What is your biggest challenge right now?

“Writing your first article is really great, but also a bit challenging because it’s still quite a new field for me. I wrote my thesis at the University of Copenhagen and in the company Symphogen, which dealt with cancer treatment, so this was something very different—even though it also dealt with the immune response.”

What does it mean to you that DTU Vet is closing down?

“Fortunately, as a PhD student, I’m secured for a three-year period. The most important thing for me is that I can keep the whole of my supervisor team—both my principal supervisor and the three co-supervisors. So it matters less where we end up. But it would be great if the whole group could remain a single unit.

How do you feel about using animals in your research?

“Of course it would be great if we could avoid this, and we also employ alternative methods where we instead take samples from the animals’ nose, grow them, and infect them with influenza in the laboratory. Without laboratory animals, we would never have come so far with our medicine.

However, it is the responsibility of every researcher to assess how many animals are required—and the degree to which they’re willing to let the animals suffer. On the other hand, it is also important not to have too few animals, as this may mean that you can’t use the results, in which case it might be better to refrain from using them altogether. You should therefore make every effort to design your research in such a way that you achieve a good result without using too many animals.”

What makes you happy in your work?

“The fact that I’m able to immerse myself in something which is pretty important and which—many years from now—can benefit others. I like that there’s time to be geeky about things, and that there’s a higher purpose, which I find very exciting.”

Will you continue as a researcher?

“Yes, absolutely. It is fascinating to delve into the body. We know a lot, but there’s still so much to learn.”