Zhulin Ma, International PhD Fellow, Novo Nordisk R&D STAR programme

Out of the lab

I enjoy living in Aarhus, which is very small compared to my home town, Beijing. Together with some Danish friends I participated in my first half Marathon in Aarhus, and I enjoy a lot of ‘hygge’ (Danish term for cosiness) with my colleagues. Our research team is filled with intelligent, creative and very dynamic PhD students. Working with them is inspiring and motivating, and to my surprise, a few of them know a lot about China. And all of them love the Chinese food, I bring to the clinic!

Zhulin Ma

STAR International PhD Fellow

“The STAR fellowship was exactly what I was looking for! I will gain insight into basic clinical research and obtain hands on experience with general research methods within diabetology.”

My life as a STAR fellow

It is 11.30 pm. Beep! 5.9mmol/L is displayed on the glucose meter. My patient has fallen asleep. I check the infusion pumps and tubing, close the ward door and write down the glucose value on the patient trial form. This is a typical day as a PhD student at Aarhus University Hospital in Denmark, where I am conducting basic clinical research in type 1 diabetes. My STAR fellowship has made it possible for me to relocate from China to Denmark and to join Professor Jens Sandahl Christiansen’s team at one of the leading university hospital research teams within diabetes. Despite the long hours I really enjoy working directly with Danish patients.

Opportunity to go back to university

I graduated as a medical doctor from Tianjin Medical University in China. Before starting my PhD, I worked as a clinical research associate at Novo Nordisk China. I often wondered, where all those brilliant ideas came from, how the clinical trial protocols were designed, and why the hypotheses were accepted or rejected. I thought about going back to university to expand my knowledge. It might only have stayed a thought, if I had not applied for the STAR PhD fellowship at Novo Nordisk R&D. I was ecstatic, when I found out I got the STAR fellowship. This was the opportunity I was looking for. I would gain insight into basic clinical research and acquire hands on experience with some commonly used research methods within diabetology.

Future in Novo Nordisk China

My research interests focus on the pharmacological characteristics of human insulin and insulin analogues and their impacts on the Insulin-like growth factor (IGF) system in humans. There are obvious differences in the pharmacodynamic and pharmacokinetic profiles of protein engineered insulins like Novo Nordisk’s own insulin aspart and human insulin. For all physicians it will be a clinical challenge to ensure that the shift from human insulin to insulin analogues is done with as few side-effects for the patients as possible. The clinical research I am doing will provide some of the answers necessary to meet this challenge. Through my PhD work I am getting familiar with the practical diabetes treatment as done in a European university hospital. When I finish my PhD thesis, I would very much like to work in Novo Nordisk again, and I am hoping to bring what I learned in Denmark back to Novo Nordisk China.