Studying diseases and healing people

30 Nov 2023

Germany Scholarship holder Tobias Ellinger spends his days researching new therapeutic methods for cardiovascular diseases in the laboratory. At night, the LMU student does pro bono work as a paramedic.

Tobias Ellinger

studies human biology at LMU | © Jan Greune

Tobias Ellinger’s greatest ambition is to help other people. All of his life to date has been focused on this single objective. Even as a child, he saw himself one day wearing a white coat. “Not necessarily as a doctor,” he adds, “but as someone who can heal diseases.” Since this desire still had not changed when he earned his Fachabitur (higher education entrance qualification), he began an apprenticeship as a laboratory technician at a Bavarian manufacturer of pharmaceutical products. Here, he would analyze the content, purity and dissolution of active pharmaceutical substances. However, Tobias quickly realized that, if he did not study, he would never be in a position to research diseases and return people to full health.

He acted on this insight without delay: To have an impact, the native of Landshut in 2017 signed up to study for a bachelor’s degree in biological chemistry at the Mannheim University of Applied Sciences, four hours from where he lived. Grades had never been important to him until then, Tobias admits. “But knowing that there was no other way to reach my goal, I pulled out all the stops during my studies and graduated with a grade of 1.2.”

Master’s degree LMU

He then applied to LMU to do a master’s degree in human biology. Although the admission criteria are strict, he passed the preliminary exam, got through the application interview and was able to start in summer 2021. Once again, he found himself a little closer to fulfilling his dream: “That made me really happy.”

Tobias chose this particular course because it lets you specialize in a variety of focal areas such as neurobiology, oncology or, in his case, cardiovascular diseases. For his master’s thesis, the 28-year-old is currently exploring how cardiac organoids – heart-like cardiac structures that are cultivated in the laboratory – can be used to more closely study the programs that unfold at cellular level during a heart attack. “That is really cool,” as he puts it. Although the research is still in its developmental stage, the aim, he says, is to modify the programs discovered in such a way that patients’ hearts heal better after a heart attack. “Ultimately, that means less scarring and better maintenance of the heart’s pump function after an infarction.”

Helping and learning

Tobias knows from experience how people suffer in the wake of a heart attack. That is because, in the little free time left to him, he does pro bono work as a paramedic, ever keen to help and provide people with medical care. To be able to do this job, he completed a 520-hour training course with the Maltese ambulance service alongside his regular studies. When the emergency service station in his native Velden (near Landshut) is not staffed, emergency calls trigger an alert on his smartphone. Despite his day-job in the laboratory, that sometimes happens several times a night (after 7 p.m.). To keep himself in good shape as a first responder, he also often sits in as the third member of the ambulance team at weekends or during the vacation periods.

The work itself is an additional source of motivation. For one thing, it puts a face on the people he wants to heal. Second, he gets a vivid insight into the diseases that he otherwise only sees in the laboratory. “I get to help and learn at the same time,” he explains. Lastly, his training as a paramedic also taught him a lot that he can use in his studies – about anatomy, arteriosclerosis and emergency medical conditions, for example. Conversely, much of what he is taught in human biology helps him when responding to incidents as a paramedic – the medical background knowledge to heart attacks, for instance. “Everything affects everything else.”

If it were not for the Germany Scholarship award at LMU, Tobias would not be able to do nearly as much for people’s health. “Without this financial support, it would be hard to do the pro bono work because I would have to find a sideline job,” he states. While he looks forward to earning his own money, that is still some way off in the future. His doctoral research will keep him busy for the next four or five years. The road to becoming a healer of diseases is a long and stony one. Tobias Ellinger has, however, has resolved to keep going until the end.

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