In Conversation:

Research Fellow Gabriela Kramer-Marek, Ph.D.

Photo shows Gabriela Kramer-Marek, Ph.D.
Gabriela Kramer-Marek, Ph.D. (Photo: B. Branson)

CCR: Gabriela, we understand that you traveled to Kyoto this fall to present your work at the 2010 World Molecular Imaging Congress. How did that come about?
Gabriela: Yes, I was honored to receive an invitation to speak at the biggest meeting in our field. The work I presented is the result of studies we have been pursuing since I came to the laboratory of Jacek Capala, Ph.D., in CCR’s Radiation Oncology Branch, five years ago.

CCR: Can you tell us about your research?
Gabriela: We have developed a new approach for the noninvasive assessment of HER2/neu expression in breast cancer, using positron emission tomography (PET) imaging. It allows for detection of HER2/neu status in both the primary tumor and distant metastases and could also be used for monitoring the response to therapeutic intervention.

CCR: So is this a technology that is ready for patients?
Gabriela: Not yet, but our collaborators will begin clinical trials next year. When I came to the lab, the project was just a proposal. First, we had to develop the tracer. We used different positron emitters to label a relatively small protein (Affibody) that tightly binds to HER2/neu. After that we tested different tumor models as well as experimental conditions to acquire high-contrast PET images for quantification of receptor expression. At every step, there were challenges. Fortunately, we have a great multidisciplinary team of researchers and very supportive collaborators.

CCR: What background did you bring to the work?
Gabriela: I trained as a medical physicist at Silesian University in Poland, which is where I am from originally. So I had a solid background in physics and I knew the theory of PET, but, of course, reading about something and working with it are two very different things. I had done my doctoral research on light-activated drugs as a cancer therapy, so I was immersed in oncology. But I don’t think I had ever seen a laboratory mouse before I came here.

CCR: What made you come all the way to the NCI from Poland to continue your research?
Gabriela: Honestly, I never wanted to come to America. I had decided to continue my postdoctoral research in Portugal when I got an email from a friend saying that Jacek was looking for a fellow. After my interview with Jacek, I think I made the decision to come here within 24 hours. During my doctoral studies, I had conducted research in some well known institutions across Europe, but none had the breadth of opportunity I saw here.

CCR: And has the experience lived up to your expectations?
Gabriela: Definitely. The facilities are, of course, amazing. But so is the network of people here at NIH. You can find and count on the support of experts in any field of medicine. And the NIH Office of Intramural Training and Education has courses on how to give a good presentation, or write a grant. Especially as a foreigner, it is a great opportunity to get a lot of experience and improve your skills.