News / 10 June 2021

Tell us a little bit about yourself:
I am Swedish/Australian but have lived and worked on 4 different continents. I fly small planes (gliders and powered aircraft), am a rescue diver and enjoy solo hiking/climbing in remote wilderness.

Why did you become a scientist?
I nearly didn’t! I completed a first year of a BSc degree in Economics, Finance and Management at Queen Mary, University of London, before realising that natural sciences were my calling. I tried my luck and applied directly to Imperial College for a BSc Physics degree outside of the regular admissions system, and some time later received an early morning phone call from them that I first thought was a prank by a friend! The rest, as we say, is history…

What is your research addressing?
My main research interest is in furthering our understanding of cellular interactions at the interface between cancer and immunology, but because of my background in physics, we are addressing fundamental outstanding questions in this area using biophysical methods and theory. We are therefore members of the still very limited but burgeoning field of mechanoimmunology. The main questions we address are how killer immune cells move and communicate, both individually and as a group, how they find their targets, and once found, how they subdue them.

Which unresolved research question would you most like to answer?
How we can get cytotoxic lymphocytes (NK- and T-cells) to infiltrate solid tumours in sufficient numbers to control and eliminate the malignancy.

What has been a highlight of your research career to date?
Undoubtedly my appointment as an EMBL Australia group leader was a highlight. But I have been very fortunate and have worked in some top institutions around the world and they have all felt like incredible experiences that helped shape me as a scientist but also as a person. But the biggest highlight of my career has to be the opportunity to assemble the team of incredible individuals I work with – I respect and admire each of them, and I learn from them every day!

What’s one research tool you can’t do without?
The microscope. In all its glorious modalities. I’m a fan of the old adage “seeing is believing” and I don’t think I would have been so inspired and motivated to pursue the difficult questions that we work on without the ability to see the intricate and mesmerising behaviours of cells

What advice would you give early-career researchers in the current climate? 
No matter how things feel like they are going at a particular time, they are just small ups and downs on a long road. Always be a good human being and conduct yourself with integrity, this is far more important in the long run than short-term successes, and remember to prioritise experiences that are fun, challenging and new, both at work and away from it. The rest will fall into place.

More about Maté’s research

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