On the Beautiful Blue Danube – A Waltz through my Research Stay in Vienna


Research Stay Report by Francesca Raffaelli


As part of my PhD training in the Graduiertenkolleg (GRK) 1957 “Adipocyte-Brain Crosstalk” at the University of Lübeck, I had the opportunity and pleasure to conduct my research stay with the group of Prof. Dr. Gert Lubec at the Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry at the University of Vienna in December 2017 and from June to July 2018. 


This research stay in Vienna was destined to help evaluate important aspects regarding my PhD project “Crosstalk of dopamine and thyroid hormone signaling in the control of thermogenic adipose tissue”.

Previous observations (Maxwell et al. 1985) and pioneering in vitro findings by 1st generation GRK student Rose Kohlie (Kohlie et al. 2017) strongly suggest a role of dopamine in activating brown adipose tissue (BAT) thermogenesis. With regard to the putative metabolic benefits of BAT activation, we are following an in depth approach to shed light on currently unidentified molecular mechanisms of its regulation. 

My primary research aim in Vienna was to elucidate whether or not dopamine receptors (DRDs) are present in adipose tissues. Professor Lubec’s group had recently published a paper on knockout validated DRD antibodies (Stojanovich et al. 2017) that led me to contact him, since I was struggling with the performance of DRD antibodies myself. I was interested in knockout tissue as a control for Western blots. He instantly invited me to join their group for this purpose and further offered to validate my studies by liquid chromatography mass spectrometry (LCMS) approaches in order to compensate the limits caused by ghastly antibodies. 

Prof. Lubec’s lab has comprehensive expertise in LCMS analysis. Accordingly, as a side benefit, first test runs and proteomic analyses during my stay have already yielded novel candidate proteins to decipher the difference between brown and white adipose tissue in more detail. 

Scientifically speaking, this research stay has helped me greatly to advance my PhD project and extend my scientific network. On a personal note, working abroad – even in a German speaking country – is a culturally formative experience. Vienna, or the “Grand City”, still impresses visitors with its stunning looks that date back to the K & K monarchy era, while nowadays the vibrancy in the metropolis is modern and active. Whatever your hobbies are – festivals, markets, Danube swimming, free sports, art galleries or architectural highlights – Vienna will serve them all! 

I would like to thank the GRK1957, the Bioscientifica Trust, my supervisors and my wonderful and talented colleagues in Vienna for making this valuable collaboration possible. I wouldn’t want to miss it.