03. August 2021

"I want to pass on knowledge" "I want to pass on knowledge"

Bolanle Fatimat Olabiyi has a passion for neurobiology

What influence do endogenous cannabinoids have on neurodegenerative diseases? Bolanle Fatimat Olabiyi is investigating this question in her doctoral thesis at the ImmunoSensation2 Cluster of Excellence. Her big goal for the future is to continue boosting research in her home country of Nigeria. An article from forsch 2021/01

Bolanle Fatimat Olabiyi
Bolanle Fatimat Olabiyi - in the entrance hall of the "Life&Brain" building at University Hospital. © Volker Lannert/ Uni Bonn
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Bolanle Fatimat Olabiyi loves to tell others about her research. The neurobiologist takes her listeners on a journey into the body, right into a cell, and intracellular mechanisms. She comes up with metaphors to illustrate complex contexts. Her sentences are structured, and her enthusiasm for her research - the study of the endocannabinoid system - is evident.

Cannabis? So, do you study Marijuana? "Not exactly," she patiently replies to a frequently heard question. “We do study the system in our body that THC, the main psychoactive component of Cannabis sativa, acts on called the Endocannabinoid system.” The system exists in many organs of the body, being important for their proper functioning. “From skin and bones to immune system, energy metabolism and even the brain, where it has a crucial role in modulating its function, as seen in the case of the intoxicating effects of marijuana”, says Olabiyi.

Academic career in focus

It was her fascination with neuroscience that brought Bolanle Fatimat Olabiyi to Bonn a good year and a half ago - selected for the PhD program of the ImmunoSensation2 Cluster of Excellence. She had qualified by successfully completing two master's degrees in biochemistry and neurobiology in Nigeria, her home country, and in Lleida, Spain. Now the Institute of Molecular Psychiatry on Venusberg is her second home. On the building's roof terrace, her favorite spot, she looks out over the city and talks about her big goal.

"I want to pursue an academic career and later work in Nigeria as a researcher and lecturer," she says resolutely. "Unfortunately, there are still big differences between the infrastructural conditions at African and European universities." She says Nigerian institutes lack modern equipment and technical facilities, and in some cases even basic chemicals. Her big wish: "I want to use the knowledge I acquired abroad and pass it on to change this."

In her family of seven, Bolanle Fatimat Olabiyi is so far the only one who has decided to go abroad - as the only daughter alongside four sons. "That is rather unusual for a Nigerian family," she says. However, she already noticed at school that she had a talent for the natural and life sciences. Unlike many of her classmates, she found it easy to understand biological or chemical relationships. "My curiosity was aroused, and I acquired more and more knowledge about these topics.”

Commitment not only in the lab

Years later, the 29-year-old is now investigating at the University of Bonn what role the endocannabinoid-binding "CB2 receptor" plays in the activation of immune cells of the brain, the microglia. These cells also play a role in inflammation in the brain, for example in Alzheimer's disease. However, it is still largely unclear how the receptor helps drive inflammatory responses in such diseases. To get to the bottom of the molecular mechanisms, Olabiyi is studying in cell culture model how it interacts with another receptor family on the microglia, called the TLR receptors. These receptors are involved in activating the innate immune response. "If we find out more about the processes of the endocannabinoid system, this may, for example, at some point be relevant for the development of drugs against neurodegenerative diseases," she emphasizes.

To promote cooperation between her home university, Osun State University in Nigeria, and the University of Bonn, she already organized a joint digital workshop on tales of cannabis research late last year in fact it was held on her birthday. "My big wish is that after the Corona pandemic is over, we can start more collaborations to promote practical skills," Olabiyi says.

She also wants to be a role model for the younger generation and encourage them with her story. She is sure: "If people are interested in my path, it will also bring our research questions into focus and motivate others to become scientists as well."


Bolanle Fatimat Olabiyi
Bolanle Fatimat Olabiyi - is investigating in her PhD thesis what effects endogenous cannabinoids can have on neurodegenerative disease patients. © Volker Lannert/ Uni Bonn
Bolanle Fatimat Olabiyi
Bolanle Fatimat Olabiyi - at her favorite place, the roof of the "Life&Brain" building. © Volker Lannert/ Uni Bonn
Bolanle Fatimat Olabiyi
Bolanle Fatimat Olabiyi - at the entrance hall of the "Life and Brain" buildung. © Volker Lannert/ Uni Bonn

Bolanle Fatimat Olabiyi is in the doctoral program of Bonn International Graduate School (BIGS) - Immunosciences and Infection. The Graduate School of the University of Bonn was founded as part of the ImmunoSensation2 Cluster of Excellence, offering studies structured as a three-year program. A series of monthly seminars is held as part of the program with guest speakers on topics of current interest relating to research and technology. Doctoral students of the Graduate School also have opportunity in methodological workshops to learn about the latest technological advancements in the life sciences. Other seminars offered are devoted to studying scientific best practices, statistics, data presentation and scientific writing. In addition to the regular course curriculum, networking events are regularly held for doctoral candidates to engage in dialogue, make contacts and instigate collaborations.

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