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Award-winning scientist says awards help research get out of the lab

In the past year, Pavlína Janovská has been collecting awards by the dozen, which helps raise awareness about the research into the causes of leukaemia.

Pavlína Janovská has already received various awards for her research, such as the award from the Ministry of Education and the Sanofi award arranged by the French Embassy.

Although the young scientist graduated from a grammar school that focused on teaching languages, which meant that subjects such as biology and chemistry only had limited time in the schedule, she became interested in the sciences and is now one of the most promising Czech talents in her field. Her latest award is the Masaryk University Rector’s Award for Outstanding Research Results Achieved by Young Scientists under 35.

Ever since she was an undergraduate, she has been studying cell communication, specifically the Wnt signalling pathways and their role in the development and progression of chronic lymphocytic leukaemia, which is the most common leukaemia found in adults. “Even though there are now several treatment options, this disease is still not entirely treatable and when it returns it is often worse than before. We are currently working on developing new types of drugs that could slow its progression down,” says Pavlína Janovská.

Although her grammar school education was dominated by languages, she had excellent science teachers and enjoyed their classes more than the language ones. When the time came to apply to university, she was wavering between medicine and biology. While she finally chose molecular biology and genetics, she could not imagine that one day she would spend long hours in her lab and by her computer, developing drugs for a specific disease.

“I think that most of us chose this programme because it sounded interesting and we were still excited by the grammar school lectures on genetics, which mostly focused on the clinical approach. What I do is completely different, but extremely interesting. I work on new challenges every day, creating my own projects and looking for solutions. No two days are the same.”

In her career, Janovská has moved from basic to applied research. From the initial findings that showed the importance of a single Wnt signalling pathway for the development and progress of chronic lymphocytic leukaemia, she and her colleagues have moved on to studying the specific proteins used to pass this signal, their concentration in the cell, and the impact that the activity of this pathway has on the migration of a specific type of white blood cells and their interaction with their surroundings.

As Janovská describes: “We later discovered that the aggressive form of the disease is linked to excessive numbers of specific proteins, Wnt ligands, in the patients’ cells, and so we started looking into the role they play. We found out that they take part in regulating cell movement and communication with other cells. So, we began to test blocking a specific part of this intercellular communication and were able to block the activity of the casein kinase 1 enzyme, which plays a key role in Wnt signalling pathways. We are now looking for substances that would do this job even better than the ones we used in lab testing.”

She enjoys working on her project, which continues to develop, and has decided to stay at the MU Faculty of Science as a postdoc. “I went on a short stay to the Karolinska Institute in Sweden where we had to conduct some of our more technically complex experiments. I am also planning to go abroad for a longer period because it is necessary to gain more experience. However, for the time being, my work here is completely fulfilling.”

The young researcher has already received various awards for her research, such as the award from the Ministry of Education and the Sanofi award arranged by the French Embassy. While she views these awards as recognition of her work and the work of her colleagues, she is also pleased that they help to spread the news about research among the general public, so that it does not stay hidden behind the lab doors.