Doctoral Researchers 2019


ALL doctoral candidates at the Helmholtz Diabetes Center shall be associated members of the International Helmholtz Research School for Diabetes, benefiting from the comprehensive scientific, translational and professional training program for future leaders in diabetes research. 

The doctoral researchers who started in 2019 and have recieved an HRD fellowship are:


Alina Walth

Institute for Diabetes and Cancer
Helmholtz Diabetes Center


"I studied at TUM Nutrition Science for my bachelors and Nutrition and Biomedicine for my masters. And for the future I am aiming for a project leader or group leader position in cancer or diabetes research. For my PhD project I investigate the role of the transcriptional co-factors TBL1 and TBLR1 in pancreatic beta-cells. Thereby I aim to identify new targets for early-onset diabetes diagnosis or treatment." 


Lina Lau

Institute of Epidemiology

Helmholtz Center München


“I was born and raised in Sarawak located on the largest island in the world – Borneo. I hold a BSc (Hons) in Pharmacology and a MSc in Clinical Pharmacology, with both degrees from the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. After that, I moved back to Malaysia and worked with Pfizer Inc. as a Sales Executive in the Anti-Infectives unit for a year. Finally, I was accepted to do a PhD here at the International Helmholtz Research School for Diabetes with Professor Barbara Thorand.

Based in the Institute of Epidemiology, my project focuses on investigating the effects of sex hormones on the development of type 2 diabetes and chronic kidney disease. With this project, I hope to be able to develop and further refine my research and analytic skills with particular emphasis on biostatistical methods and data management as I think these are important and transferable skills within the healthcare industry. Diabetes is a devastating chronic disease that has years of ill-effects not only on an individual’s quality of life, but the wider society as well. Through my work, my hopes for the future will be that healthcare processes to be more efficient and streamlined in order to maximize positive patient outcomes for diabetic patients.”


Maria Kral

Institute of Diabetes Research

Helmholtz Diabetes Center

"I am Maria and I studied Molecular Biology at the University of Vienna. As I have a strong interest in Type 1 Diabetes, I wanted to pursue a PhD in this research field. I want to contribute to the research by deciphering underlying mechanisms that lead to T1D as well as to find markers for disease progression. For my project, I am particularly interested in dissecting immunoregulatory mechanisms that initiate islet autoimmunity in rapid versus slow disease progression."


Perla Cota

Institute of Diabetes and Regeneration Research

Helmholtz Diabetes Center

"My name is Perla Cota, former MSc student at the University of Calgary in Canada in the area of stem cell and regenerative medicine. My interest includes, understanding the genetic and epigenetic landscape of pancreatic islets in Type 1 and type 2 diabetes together with how can we find a non-invasive regenerative approach for it. My work at the Lickert lab will be focused on unveiling new molecular mechanisms of de- and re-differentiation state of β-cells in human pancreatic islets. Furthermore, I will test some drugs that will activate some of those mechanisms in order to achieve β-cell regeneration in human islets. This novel approach will shed light into a non-invasive treatment alternative for diabetes remission."


Qiming Tan

Department of Pediatrics

Alberta Diabetes Institute

"In 2013, I moved from China to Canada and began my undergraduate studies at the University of Manitoba. Due to my longstanding interest in health sciences and the growing need for solutions to the worldwide epidemic of diet-related chronic diseases, l decided to follow the human nutrition program. In my senior year, while reviewing scientific literature for a review, I ran across some microbiome papers that aroused my interest in nutritional microbiology. Virtually all diet-related chronic diseases have been linked to the microbiome. I, therefore, chose to investigate the effects of diet on the gut microbiome and implications for host physiology, metabolism, and disease risk for my master’s (McGill University) and doctoral (University of Alberta) work. Specifically, for my PhD project, I study whether and how dietary fibers can improve appetite control and insulin sensitivity, as well as gut microbiome composition and function in children who are always hungry (due to a rare genetic disease called Prader–Willi syndrome). It is my career goal to develop novel therapeutics for obesity and diabetes. I do not know exactly what I will be doing in 10 years time, but I know that I am passionate about research in nutrition and microbiome and want to play my part in making the world a better place."



Rhoda Karikari

Institute for Diabetes and Cancer

Helmholtz Diabetes Center

"My name is Rhoda Anane Karikari, I am from Ghana. Having the ability to use molecular and experimental techniques (bench to bedside) to devise treatments for modern diseases particularly attracts me. I hold a BSc (Hons) in Human Biology from University of Cape Coast in Ghana and an MSc in Medicine (Immunology and microbiology) from Inje University in South Korea. Despite diet and exercise interventions, in combination with metformin at early stages of glucose intolerance many patients do develop more severe Type 2 diabetes and eventually insulin dependence. Currently, our lack of knowledge on the causal factors leading to early insulin resistance and gradual development of T2D is the main reason for the non-responsiveness to current therapeutic interventions and the ineffective treatment of insulin resistance. This will therefore be the focus of my PhD project."


Theodore dos Santos

Department of Pharmacology

Alberta Diabetes Institute

"While my family roots are originally from Goa, I was born and raised in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and am currently a citizen of Portugal. In 2011, I moved to Alberta, Canada to pursue an Honours BSc in Immunology and Infection at the University of Alberta. Since graduating in 2015, I was hired as an imaging technologist in Medical Microbiology and Immunology, specializing in Spinning-Disk Confocal, Super-resolution OMX, and Electron Microscopy techniques. During this time, I studied Herpes Simplex Virus immune evasion with Dr. James Smiley, deciphered the intracellular life cycle of Reovirus with Dr. Shmulevitz, and examined how RNA viruses such as Zika, Hepatitis C, and Dengue hijack nuclear pore proteins for viral replication with Dr. Tyrrell.

In early 2019, I decided to advance my career by pursuing a graduate degree; however, I wished to move away from viral infections, and study a non-communicable chronic disease…but which one? After learning about the growth and global impact of diabetes, the choice became obvious. In the fall of 2019, I joined Dr. Patrick MacDonald’s lab at the Alberta Diabetes Institute as an MSc student, studying the calcium dynamics in alpha and beta cells from islet donors with or without diabetes. I was also honoured to receive the support of the HRD school to collaborate with Dr. Heiko Lickert and Dr. Fabian Theis. In 2020, when labs shutdown during the Covid-19 pandemic, I taught myself to code in Python and explored machine learning. I then transitioned my research towards the computational modelling and mining of combined electrophysiology and single cell RNA sequencing (patch-seq) data. The approach helped us discover that alpha cell dysfunction in Type 2 Diabetes is heterogeneous, and most pronounced in cells expressing high levels of lineage and immaturity makers. Due to the success of this approach, I was allowed to bypass my MSc and transition directly into the PhD program. Currently, I am using a similar approach to study the alpha and surviving beta cells in Type 1 Diabetes human islets, to gain a greater understanding of their dysfunction, and how it impacts blood glucose control. In my future, I am planning on pursuing medical school to train as a clinical diagnostic imaging scientist, bridging experimental research, computational approaches, and patient care."



Vignesh Karthikaisamy

Institute for Diabetes and Cancer

Helmholtz Diabetes Center

"I come from a small town that produces almost 80% of crackers in India – Sivakasi. After completing my bachelor degree in biotechnology at Mepco Schlenk Engineering College, I moved to Bonn, Germany for my master degree with the specialization in molecular biology. At the Max Planck Institute for the Biology of Ageing, Cologne I researched the role of a metabolic pathway in extending lifespan and enhancing protein quality control. Now, for my PhD research, I am trying to develop new pharmacotherapies for tissue loss associated with cancer - cancer cachexia. Cancer cachexia affects 50-80% of cancer patients and accounts for almost 20% of cancer death and the molecular mechanism driving the associated muscle and adipose tissue loss is poorly understood. This project intends to unravel novel pathways that are involved in the pathogenesis/pathophysiology of cancer cachexia and to intervene them using pharmaceutical compounds. Ultimately, I aim to reduce the mortality and prolong life expectancy in patients suffering from this condition."