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Postdocs at Muni: Greek researcher studies toxic substances in cosmetics

Katerina Kademoglou studies at RECETOX substances that occur in various personal care products that could be detrimental to human health.

Katerina Kademoglou arrived in Brno six months ago via the Operational Programme Research, Development and Education

As a child, she would accompany her mum to the biochemistry lab at the hospital, where she would be surrounded by test tubes and centrifuges. When she was fifteen, Katerina Kademoglou decided to study biology and seek answers to how life works. Just like the 29 other new postdocs at Muni, she arrived at the university via an EU project.

The young researcher, who works at the Faculty of Science, studies substances that occur in various personal care products that could be detrimental to human health. She arrived in Brno six months ago via the Operational Programme Research, Development and Education, which made it possible to open up thirty positions for postdocs at Masaryk University to students from other countries. Thanks to funding of over 90 million crowns, all the MU faculties have been welcoming postdocs to two-year positions since May.

Kademoglou was one of the first to arrive, so she has already had almost six months to make herself at home in Brno. “I’m enjoying the local life. My Czech may not be that good yet, but I can order a beer, which gives you a solid foundation here,” she says with a smile.

She has completed intense study programmes in three different countries, beginning in her native Greece, where she graduated from a five-year biology programme specialising in environmental chemistry, ecology, and the relationships between animals and their environment.

“After graduating, I was considering what to do next. I wanted to continue my studies abroad but wasn’t sure what to focus on. I visited an open day at the university in Wageningen in the Netherlands, and there was a lecture on toxicology and how consumer goods impact people and the environment, which caught my attention, so I applied to study there,” she recalls.

When she completed her two-year master’s programme, she started looking for a suitable PhD programme. She applied for a scholarship sponsored by the EU programmes and after several months, was selected for the Marie Curie Action – Innovative Training Network programme and moved to Reading in the UK.

While the substances she studies may often be relatively harmless, the problem is the level of exposure. During her PhD studies, she focused on flame retardants and how they affect human health. Flame retardants are organic substances that are added to almost everything that surrounds us, from clothes and carpets to construction materials. While they are used to mitigate the risk of fires, they are not altogether risk-free themselves. “These substances have become so widespread that their concentration in buildings has increased, leading to concerns they might be harmful to human health. I was developing lab models to show how much of these substances gets inside the human body with the dust that we breathe and swallow,” she explains.

She applied for the postdoc position at the Faculty of Science’s Research Centre for Toxic Compounds in the Environment (RECETOX) after a colleague suggested it to her. Her research now encompasses other groups of substances, such as phthalates and parabens, which are present in various creams, cosmetic wipes, and similar products. “Again, the devil is in the extent to which we are exposed to them. The amount of these substances in your day cream may be negligible, but if you have been essentially using such products for your whole life, it can start showing in your health,” she adds.

However, there are other factors that have a negative impact on health, such as stress – and Kademoglou thinks both students and researchers have more than their fair share of it: “This is why I’m happy that RECETOX is not only a place to work but that we can also meet with our students, colleagues, and administrative workers outside the lab.” She thinks Brno offers a great choice of opportunities for such meetings, from places to eat to music and the arts, which is Kademoglou’s favourite way to relax. She also appreciates the location of Brno, which lends itself to day trips around the city as well as long weekends in nearby countries.