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Women in science at Masaryk University: From contemporary history to leukaemia research

In February we celebrated the International Day of Women and Girls in Science.

The International Day of Women and Girls in Science was established in 2015 by the United Nations General Assembly and is celebrated every February. Throughout the month, Czech universities and various other institutions have been highlighting the key role of women in science using the hashtag #HolkyVeVědě (#WomenInScience). Masaryk University is one such university and M Magazine now brings you the stories of eight remarkable women in science at MU.

Michaela Fojtů

Biochemist recognised for developing nanodrugs

Michaela Fojtů, who recently completed her PhD, joined a cancer biology lab as an undergraduate student. Last year, her final thesis and other publications won her two awards – one from the dean of the MU Faculty of Medicine and the other in the Werner for Siemens competition. Fojtů focuses on nanooncology, a rapidly growing field that combines cancer therapy and nanotechnology. Her award-winning thesis and publications, as well as her other research projects, have revolved around three types of nanoparticles and their use with existing or newly designed chemotherapeutic agents used in cancer treatment. She divides her time between MUNI and the University of Chemistry and Technology.

Bríd Ní Ghráinne

From Ireland to Brno in pursuit of science

Bríd Ní Ghráinne is an Irish member of the international team at the Judicial Studies Institute of the MU Faculty of Law. She started out as a law student in Ireland but went on to earn her master’s degree in the Netherlands and her PhD at Oxford. She first met her current boss David Kosař at a conference in the US and later came to Brno for a six-month research visit to his team before accepting her current position as a research specialist. One of the topics that Bríd focuses on are refugees and the resettlement of people. “I am currently working on a book that examines the so-called safe areas located in third countries. These areas, where people can find refuge from war, began emerging in the 1990s but nobody has really paid attention to their legal status.”

Pavlína Janovská

Awards help research get out of the lab

Although Pavlína Janovská from the MU Faculty of Science 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 research talents. 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. She has already received various awards for her research including an award from the Ministry of Education, the Sanofi award conferred by the French Embassy and the MU Rector’s Award. Find out more about her research here.

Jana Klánová

Biologist manages a leading research centre focusing on toxic substances in the environment and their impact on human health

At the MU Faculty of Science, Jana Klánová heads the leading RECETOX research centre that studies environmental toxins. “I am still learning. Our centre must respond to new challenges and open new research and study programmes. It is my responsibility to oversee our progress and to coordinate the development of our strategy and related projects. Our priorities include new partnerships and the international recognition of the centre,” says Klánová. Under her leadership, the centre was recently awarded €40 million by the CETOCOEN Excellence project to conduct comprehensive research into the impact of the environment, lifestyle and socio-economic status on human health.

Denisa Nečasová

Historian uncovers the method for building the “new socialist person”

Overachieving manual labour, working at 120% and female shock workers were just some of the role models of early socialism. You might assume that the politicians of the time had a sophisticated plan for transforming society to meet this new standard. However, Denisa Nečasová at the MU Faculty of Arts, who studies contemporary history, discovered that there was no such grand plan. She describes her findings in her book Nový socialistický člověk (New Socialist Person, only in Czech).

Gabriela Pavlasová

Young scientist wins the prestigious Discovery Award for her leukaemia research

Gabriela Pavlasová from CEITEC MU and the MU Faculty of Medicine studies CD20, a mysterious molecule found on the surface of cancer cells. Rituximab, an antibody against CD20, has been used for over 20 years in leukaemia and lymphoma therapy, but the function of the CD20 molecule remains unclear. Last year, Pavlasová’s work was recognised with the Discovery Award, which has been given out for the past seven years by Novartis, a Swiss multinational pharmaceutical company, to young researchers under 40 for their contribution to medical science. Read more about Pavlasová’s research.

Šárka Pospíšilová

Top scientist and vice-rector for research works on a database mapping Czech genetic variability

Besides serving as the vice-rector for research and doctoral studies, Šárka Pospíšilová also heads the Centre for Molecular Medicine at CEITEC MU. One of her current projects is called Analysis of Czech Genomes for Theranostics, which aims to create a national reference database mapping the genetic variability of the Czech population. The genetic information obtained will enable tailoring personalised therapy to individual patients and improved predictions of treatment efficacy prior to starting therapy based on a detailed description of the disease and genetic analysis.

Petra Urbanová

Anthropologist brings Baron Trenck back to life

Petra Urbanová, who has served as the head of the Department of Anthropology at the MU Faculty of Science since last year, is one of the scientists who reconstructed the likely appearance of Baron Trenck for last year’s exhibition at Špilberk Castle in Brno. Baron Trenck was a famous 18th-century soldier and adventurer and the most famous prisoner to be held in the castle.

The anthropologists involved in the project reconstructed his face based on his mummy, which was laid to rest in the Capuchin Crypt in the historical centre of Brno. “The project uncovered many new details about the physical appearance and peculiarities of Baron Trenck and his health. We now know what the consequences of his rough way of living were and whether he suffered from toothache,” says Urbanová.