BRIDGE FUND interview series


BRIDGE FUND opens the door for the CEITEC PhD students who aim to further promote interdisciplinary projects between Life Sciences and Material Science at CEITEC.


The proposed projects must be focused on interdisciplinary research between two Research Programmes - one in Life Sciences (Structural Biology, Genomics and Proteomics of Plant Systems, Molecular Medicine, Brain and Mind Research or Molecular Veterinary Medicine Research Programme) and one in Materials Science (Advanced Nano- and Microtechnologies or Advanced Materials Research Programme).


It means that a student will spend time in both laboratories.


We talked to the BRIDGE FUND awardees to learn about their projects (approved projects 2019/20), their experience, and to celebrate this unique fund together.




Mahnaz Alijani




How is it being a Ph.D. student at CEITEC?


I came to the Czech Republic to explore the sphere of nanomaterials synthesis. I am particularly interested in one-dimensional nanotubes, which my Supervisor, Dr. Jan Macák, has been pioneering for many years. The best aspect of my Ph.D. studies is the freedom and the trust of my supervisor, whose emphasis on asking the right questions has had a lasting effect on me. After more than a year, I can say, CEITEC is a great place for doing a Ph.D. There is a sound evaluation system for ensuring that each student´s research project and course work proceed at an appropriate pace. I think that's what CEITEC has always instilled in its students, to keep looking ahead to see what we could do next. Supervisors are more like a colleague with whom you plan and discuss your research. We have good research facilities at CEITEC. Overall, there are enough opportunities here for success.



What sparks your interest in interdisciplinary research between Life Sciences and Materials Science?


As a materials scientist, I have always worked on different materials, particularly useful for varying industries and fields. However, since my master's degree, I have studied extensively about the application of my work in life science, and I found that Life science in compilation with materials science can provide a wide research area to achieve new and important results.



Why is interdisciplinary scientific research relevant?


To solve a problem, understand concepts, or improve a method, we need to integrate knowledge from two or more different fields. The potential of two disciplines can be used to solve issues that cannot be addressed with the absolute understanding of one discipline.



What do you think Life Sciences and Materials Science can bring to each other?


The truth is that we can find an overlap between the science of living organisms and inanimate objects. However, let me explain in the base of our work that material science can introduce new and unique materials or different methods for practical use to biology and understanding phenomena that take place in living organisms.  



Can you briefly describe your project (audience: someone outside the scientific community)?


I continue my previous research on titanium dioxide (TiO2) as an important material with versatile applications as pigments, capacitors, solar cells, catalyst, photo-catalysts, etc. Among all available nanoscale morphologies, nanotubes belong to the most exciting shapes, and TiO2 nanotubes are an excellent candidate for these purposes. I am focusing on improving the high aspect ratio nanotube layer with the ultimate goal to realize a new generation of flow-through membranes that are expected to be excellent for size-specific and site-specific filtration of proteins and other biomolecules and also in the drug delivery applications. We submitted our proposal for working on some specific proteins with our project partner (Dr. Josef Hritz from CEITEC MU).



Why should the general audience care about your research?


As far as I know, the matter that the general audience would care about is that they know about some diseases. In our research, we mention that proteins play a fundamental role in various physiological processes like the functioning of cells and organisms, and the accumulation of misfolded proteins leads to insoluble and highly stable toxic aggregates. The aggregation of proteins can cause a variety of known diseases such as Parkinson's.



How did you come up with the proposal, and what excites you the most in this project?


The initial idea for the project was chosen from my supervisor's previous work and based on my knowledge about nanomaterials. After some discussion with dr. Hritz's team, it became complete and sufficient for a research proposal. One of the fascinating issues we've encountered was the notably different ways of thinking that typically characterize biologists and material scientists. Sharing these two types of thinking can be the key to overcome challenges and deal with various issues during the project.



How did you learn of the BRIDGE FUND?


Honestly, I heard about BRIDGE FUND from my Ph.D. supervisor, dr. Jan Macák, and then I searched about it in CEITEC’s website to gain more information.



As a candidate of the BRIDGE FUND, how do you think the BRIDGE FUND can help promote interdisciplinary research, especially for indifferent researchers?

In this time, most of the Ph.D. students with new ideas at CEITEC know about the Bridge fund, but finding a project partner is not easy. So, interacting with different groups as a discussion of previous candidates with interested students should help identify groups that can work together.



Conjoining two research topics, what do you find most challenging?

How do you plan on overcoming these obstacles?


A new project, new topic, new people, strict deadlines, are parts of the challenges that we are encounter in conducting conjoining research projects. I think we can overcome these obstacles with several methods. For example, time management methods would be beneficial. We can be motivated by challenges and push ourselves to go outside of our comfort zone. I believe that I can effectively meet challenges, and I have the flexibility and skills necessary to handle challenging issues at work. 



What do you hope to learn from this experience brought by the BRIDGE FUND?


New things can be learned in any experience. This can be scientific matters such as new materials, methods, analysis, etc., or interaction with new people. For me, the most important learning from this project was that it’s vital to get the goals clear before a project starts.



How would you promote the BRIDGE FUND to your fellow students?


In our research group, we are working mainly on TiO2 nanotubes and polymeric nanofibers; both materials have great potential for expansion in the bio application. We shared our ideas and thoughts for this purpose in our group. At the moment, there is another student from our group who received the Bridge fund for the next call.



How do you think this experience can help with your future career?


During my previous work as head of the R&D department in one of the leading companies in Iran, I learned a great deal about prioritizing. This project was another experience for me how much had to be done in such a short period on top of my other duties during my Ph.D. Moreover, this project made me more interested in following bio projects than before. On the other hand, developing a broad range of skills and abilities can help us to secure a new job or open the door to working in a new industry.





Jakub Hrubý




How is it being a PhD student at CEITEC?


I am a third-year PhD student, and so far, my experience is positive. PhD studies at CEITEC are heading in the right direction functioning similarly to places I visited in Germany, Italy and the USA. The emphasis is put on both the scientific part and the form of communicating results, which is important, yet not common at most universities in the Czech Republic.



What sparks your interest in interdisciplinary research between Life Sciences and Materials Science?


I always wanted to observe nature and its manifestation. The field of physics and nanotechnology, which I studied, is mostly associated with materials and inanimate nature. However, physics is natural science that involves both life and material sciences. The spectroscopic technique of electron spin resonance (ESR), which our group CEITEC MOTeS in Brno develops, is capable of advancing both fields.



Why is interdisciplinary scientific research relevant?


It is relevant in the sense that every research field has its scope and processes that set boundaries and somewhat limit the field. If you ride the same train as a passenger, you will never know what is on the roof; you have to get out and look from the outside. Life science researchers emphasize different aspects compared to material sciences. New research ideas come from looking at the same thing from another angle.



What do you think Life Sciences and Materials Science can bring to each other?


Different scope and processes that require unique methodology and approaches. I would say both fields are complementary, not a competition with each other.



Can you briefly describe your project (audience: someone outside the scientific community)?


We use a physical technique on a biological system that is isolated from people treated for cancer. In detail, we investigate the possibility to use spin labels attached to complementary microRNA as a biomarker in patients with renal cell carcinoma by ESR spectroscopy.



Why should the general audience care about your research?


I am paid from every taxpayer in the Czech Republic and the European Union, which makes me responsible to the general audience for the research I conduct. We believe that our research will lay the ground for non-invasive and fast detection of people with cancer and will accelerate life science ESR spectroscopy in Brno and the Czech Republic.



How did you come up with the proposal, and what excites you the most in this project?


The whole idea began at the CEITEC PhD retreat in Telč in 2018. In the late evening hours, I got into an argument with a colleague (project partner) from the life sciences about a different approach in their research compared to ours. That sparked the idea not to fight, but rather join forces for the common cause and look at the research from both perspectives. It is about curiosity and honesty that is all you need.



How did you learn of the BRIDGE FUND?


If I remember it correctly, I came across BRIDGE FUND firstly at the CEITEC PhD retreat and then CEITEC website and newsletter.



As a candidate of the BRIDGE FUND, how do you think the BRIDGE FUND can help promote interdisciplinary research, especially for indifferent researchers?

It gives financial and material support to PhD students and groups for the realization of their research ideas. I hope there are no indifferent researchers at CEITEC.



Conjoining two research topics, what do you find most challenging?


As I mentioned earlier, the biggest obstacle is the different background and way of researching the life and material sciences. For example, the use of pseudo-units that are strange for physicists such as kilobase pair or optical density.



How do you plan on overcoming these obstacles?

I try to convince biologists to give me answers in my language, or we need to find a way to translate it so that we understand each other. The common language could be mostly chemistry for both fields.



What do you hope to learn from this experience brought by the BRIDGE FUND?


I already learned a lot from this experience. It opens your eyes and helps to see the gaps and diversity in science.



How would you promote the BRIDGE FUND to your fellow students?


I think the financial motivation for both stipend and consumables is already high. What might be limiting is the impact on the direction of PhD studies. I can imagine that for some students it will be an almost full-time job, for others it can be as a great addition to their PhD topic.



How do you think this experience can help with your future career?


It will help me to understand the needs from a life sciences perspective and to organize work in a rather new field, therefore, the ability to adapt. Moreover, I got in contact with many great people from the life sciences at CEITEC.





Barbora Tesařová




How is it being a PhD student at CEITEC?


Being a PhD student at CEITEC represents a great opportunity because CEITEC provides an exceptional environment for human development during PhD studies and prospects to collaborate with interesting people. I appreciate a lot from being part of this multidisciplinary group.



What sparks your interest in interdisciplinary research between Life Sciences and Materials Science?


Because the interdisciplinary combination of Life Sciences and Materials Science is precisely the combination on which I am focusing my research during my PhD studies.



Why is interdisciplinary scientific research relevant?


The interdisciplinary scientific research can bring new ideas, knowledge and results that are crucial for any research.



What do you think Life Sciences and Materials Science can bring to each other?


Related to my research and my project, I believe that the connection between Life Sciences and Materials Science is necessary to tailor the properties of nanomedicines toward their application not only to a specific disease but also to a particular patient. Moreover, interdisciplinarity can speed up the translation of nanomedicines used for targeted therapy into clinical practice.



Can you briefly describe your project (audience: someone outside the scientific community)?


My project is mainly focused on targeted therapy of breast carcinoma. This means that cytostatic drugs are transferred directly to breast carcinoma tissue. This direct transfer eliminates many side effects of conventional chemotherapy. Cytostatic drugs are encapsulated in a ubiquitous protein, ferritin, which is generally present in the human body. Since ~5 % of nanomaterial doses reach their affected tissue, which happens, among other reasons, due to non-specific recognition and uptake of nano-constructs by macrophages. The primary role of macrophages is early response and clearance of unknown material by phagocytosis. I decided to focus on the investigation of the immune response to prepared nano-constructs.



Why should the general audience care about your research?


There is a considerable need for ʺstealthʺ nano-constructs with a pronounced immunocompatibility. Surface modifications of nanomaterials seem to be a promising way to significantly decrease activation of the immune response and therefore reach higher effectivity in cancer therapy.



How did you come up with the proposal, and what excites you the most in this project?


My PhD thesis is focused on the interactions of nanoparticles with the biological environment. Activation of the immune response is one of the most challenging obstacles that needs to be overcome to enable nanoparticle usage in clinical practice. Therefore, I decided to concentrate on this topic.



How did you learn of the BRIDGE FUND?


The head of our department prof. RNDr. Vojtěch Adam, Ph.D., informed us and supported me to apply for the proposal.



As a candidate of the BRIDGE FUND, how do you think the BRIDGE FUND can help promote interdisciplinary research, especially for indifferent researchers?


I think it is a great idea to stimulate different research groups with a different focus to start collaborating. This can result in a plethora of exciting results.



Conjoining two research topics, what do you find most challenging?


The most challenging for me is to schedule the time precisely so that the tasks in the laboratories can follow each other.



How do you plan on overcoming these obstacles?


To spend more time by precise planning of lab tasks.



What do you hope to learn from this experience brought by the BRIDGE FUND?


This is my first experience with an interdisciplinary project, so I hope to learn as much as possible, especially time-coordination, new laboratory skills, and new contacts.



How would you promote the BRIDGE FUND to your fellow students?


BRIDGE FUND represents an excellent opportunity to have a new experience by leading a interdisciplinary project as a PhD student, which means to take full responsibility for this project. There is a lot of competition in the BRIDGE FUND. Therefore, success presents a considerable motivation. The preparation of the application for BRIDGE FUND was for me, at the very least, a valuable experience for future writing of grant applications. Furthermore, it opens up a lot of opportunities for me to connect my research with other successful scientists.



How do you think this experience can help with your future career?


I think that this experience will help me in many aspects of my future career, for example with the writing of grant applications, evaluation of the project and its results, via the defence of the project to an international independent expert commission, and also establishing new personal connections.





Eva Vojáčková





How is it being a PhD student at CEITEC?


I am currently in the third year of my PhD studies in Life Sciences–Bio-omics working in the group of Assoc. Prof. Marek Mráz. At CEITEC, I feel welcomed and supported. Students in the CEITEC PhD programme are required to take only a few compulsory courses, and so I can devote most of my time to my research.



What sparks your interest in interdisciplinary research between Life Sciences and Materials Science?


My supervisor initiated our project, and I liked the idea of working on a joied project with material scientists. I was interested in the collaboration, because it was an opportunity to broaden my horizons and learn new experimental techniques.



Why is interdisciplinary scientific research relevant?


Expertise and insights of people from different disciplines can help study phenomena that can be hardly understood by using methods and a way of thinking specific to only one field. Collaboration fuels creativity and offers new possibilities for problem-solving.



What do you think Life Sciences and Materials Science can bring to each other?


For example, our lab uses materials developed by material scientists at CEITEC to mimic human-like lymphoid microenvironment and to study leukaemia. We find application for these materials and provide information about their behaviour in a living organism that is valuable to material scientists. We would not have any of these without the mutualistic collaboration.



Can you briefly describe your project (audience: someone outside the scientific community)?


Our interdisciplinary project focuses on the development of a novel mouse model for the study of chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL), which is still an incurable disease. Specifically, we prepare a human-like lymphoid microenvironment in a mouse using collagen scaffold that includes supportive cells, which then enable the growth of human CLL cells in that mouse. We prepare the collagen scaffolds with Ing. Jana Dorazilová, who is a PhD student in the laboratory of Assoc. Prof. Lucy Vojtová at CEITEC BUT.



Why should the general audience care about your research?


Our mouse model might enable testing of novel drugs and their combinations for leukaemia on living organisms, which is more relevant to humans. The model will provide new insights into the biology of CLL, and our approach of using artificial scaffolds represents a new strategy in our discipline.



How did you come up with the proposal, and what excites you the most in this project?


The development of a mouse model for CLL is the main focus of my dissertation. The most exciting part of my project is the work with mice – implantation of scaffolds, monitoring, autopsies, and analysis of engraftment by using diverse methods. I like fine work with animals and how I can continuously improve my skills.



How did you learn of the BRIDGE FUND?


I saw an information leaflet hanging on a wall at CEITEC.



As a candidate of the BRIDGE FUND, how do you think the BRIDGE FUND can help promote interdisciplinary research, especially for indifferent researchers?


Some of the BRIDGE FUND-supported projects might result in important applications or publications, which could inspire other researchers to initiate a new interdisciplinary collaboration. Additionally, the generous stipend might motivate PhD students to consider incorporating interdisciplinarity into their projects.



Conjoining two research topics, what do you find most challenging?

How do you plan on overcoming these obstacles?


I have not faced any specific problems due to the interdisciplinary aspects of my project. The collaboration with material scientists is very similar to collaboration with other biologists. For me, the most challenging is the research itself, to stay positive and motivated even when the results often lead to new issues that I have never anticipated.



What do you hope to learn from this experience brought by the BRIDGE FUND?


Thanks to the BRIDGE FUND, I have had the opportunity to learn to write grant proposals and progress reports. I learned about the preparation of collagen scaffolds and how to handle them, place implants into mice, and subsequently analyse the results. 



How would you promote the BRIDGE FUND to your fellow students? How do you think this experience can help with your future career?


Our collaboration will hopefully result in the development of the new mouse model, its publication in a recognised journal and application in further research of chronic lymphocytic leukaemia. These outcomes would be both good promotion for the Bridge Fund and a plus point in my CV for my future career.




Interviewed by Somsuvro Basu & Sophia Man


Publication date: 21.08.2020