Dr. Sanil Bhatia 2016 awardee of the 'Düsseldorf research prize for Peadiatrics'

The research lab in which Sanil Bhatia works is connected to the paediatric clinic of the University Hospital, Düsseldorf. Here, physicians come face-to-face with the fact that the second most significant cause of death among children is leukaemia. Therefore, the lab is focused on treating leukaemia, especially among children. Sanil’s research focuses on the characterisation of stem cells, which is very important for therapeutic purposes.
He works on the characterisation of hematopoietic stem cells, which escape the conventional chemotherapeutic treatment. The research group found a new target that regulates the expression of a key molecule for leukaemia stem cells which escape treatment. They hope it will be useful for future interventions and that drugs can be designed against it.

Sanil next to his poster at the 'American Society of Hematology (ASH) meeting' in Orlando, USA in 2015

You got your Bachelors degree in Biotechnology from Guru Nanak Dev University in Punjab, India, and during your Masters you started the stem cell work?

Sanil: Stem cell research was the main goal why I actually left my home country, India. During my Masters at the University of Hertfordshire, United Kingdom, I was working on cardiac stem cells. I looked for the transcriptional regulation involved in the differentiation of embryonic stem cells to cardiac stem cells. However, the importance of leukaemia, especially for children, motivated me to focus on that field of research. Still it was very hard for me to change from cardiac research to leukaemia.

How did you get to Düsseldorf? Did you know anyone here?

Sanil: I always wanted to be close to translational research rather than core signalling exclusively. I wanted to be near to the patients, even though I do not see them. The clinic here is one of the best in the field and I am glad I got the position here. The clinic director, Prof. Borkhardt, has been and is still  very supportive and motivating for our research.

For your postdoc, you are staying at the same institute where you did your PhD but you work in a different research group with a young research group leader – Julia Hauer. How is the atmosphere in such a young team?

Sanil: My group leader is one of the reasons why I am here. We are even one step closer now to our research and are trying to devise alternative strategies to counter leukaemia. We are developing new inhibitors, which are in the pipeline. Hopefully, it will add up to our knowledge.
Interaction in our group is quite good and it is fun. The motivation is there. I have worked with young, and as well as very senior professors. I enjoy it here as I can develop my projects and can share my ideas. When you work with a young leader, you get the chance to convince them of new results more easily, but only if you are right.

What do you especially like about doing your research here at HHU? Is there something special?

Sanil: I love Düsseldorf and our lab. I am here for 6 years now and I honestly like the atmosphere here, especially at the clinic. I have never had a problem with anyone hindering my research in a particular field. If it is connected they will always push me to focus on it. We have good collaborations with research labs at the university. I have never had any restrictions or any kind of financial problems. The research is at the top.

You were awarded the ‘Düsseldorfer research prize for Paediatrics’. What does the prize mean to you and what are you going to do with the money?

Sanil: Fortunately, the award is private. Normally when we are awarded this type of prize, we have to use it for research. But this award, which is kindly offered by the Elterninitiative der Kinderkrebsklinik, motivates me at a personal as well as professional level. For me, it means a lot and it helps my CV for sure. It gives me additional motivation. I see other researchers at the lab working hard to get such awards and I believe it is good for the clinic, as a whole.

Did you obtain any other awards?

Sanil: In the past, I got two travel awards: one for a conference in Orlando; USA and one for a meeting in Oxford, UK. Presenting my research to a greater audience was very encouraging for me.

What are your plans for your future career? Are you going to stay in Düsseldorf?

Sanil: The current research topic motivates me all the time and that’s the reason why I wish to stay a bit longer. Actually, it is said that researchers need to switch labs after a while for better career options. But, here, in my lab, there are good people and the research is crucial. So, this is motivating me right now. If, at certain time,I lose my motivation, I will definitely switch.

As you plan to stay longer in Düsseldorf, is there an academic career ahead or do you have some other plans?

Sanil: This is a very hard question. I think I have one more year to bargain with. Let’s say, it depends. If I keep on enjoying what I am doing, I will stay within academia. I do not intend to switch over to industry just for the sake of money.


Sanil has been interviewed by Uta Brunner in December 2016.


In person

Sanil Bhatia


Doctoral thesis:
A role of nucleolin in human hematopoietic progenitor cells, 2015

Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Arndt Borkhardt, Department of Haematology, Oncology and Clinical Immunology, University Hospital Düsseldorf

Current research group: 
Dr. med. Julia Hauer, Department of Haematology, Oncology and Clinical Immunology, University Hospital Düsseldorf

Bhatia S, Daschkey S, Lang F, Borkhardt A, Hauer J. Expert Opin Drug Discov. (2016) Mouse models for pre-clinical drug testing in leukemia. Nov;11(11):1081- 1091.

Auer F, Ingenhag D, Bhatia S, Enczmann J, Cobaleda C, Sanchez-Garcia I, Borkhardt A, Hauer J (2016) GEMMs addressing Pax5 loss-of-function in childhood pB-ALL. Eur J Med Genet. 2016 Mar;59(3):166-72.

Bhatia S, Reister S, Mahotka C, Meisel R, Borkhardt A, Grinstein E. (2015). Control of AC133/CD133 and impact on human hematopoietic progenitor cells through nucleolin. Leukemia. 2015 Nov;29(11):2208-20.

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