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Young medical student uncovers the secrets of tumours

The 22-year-old Ondrej Beláň is among the elite medical students participating in the P-PooL programme.

Ondrej Beláň, a brilliant young medical student, seeks to find the mechanisms that stand behind of the tumour cells ability to survive.

He spends whole days at the lab, alternating between the “cold lab”, where he runs the chromatograph at a temperature of four degrees Celsius (or 39°F), and the bacteria cultivation room with temperatures around 37 degrees Celsius (99°F). The 22-year-old Ondrej Beláň is among the elite medical students participating in the P-PooL programme.

As a participant in this programme, Beláň has worked in research ever since his first days at Masaryk University, and his current investigation has won him first place at the Student Scientific Conference.

About a year ago, he began to study a protein that is able to repair damaged DNA under his supervisor Lumír Krejčí. “We thought that this protein is not subject to mutation, because it is too important for human life,” explains the third year student, who spends most of his time in a biochemistry lab holding a pipette. “However, we found out that that wasn’t the case.”

To study the protein, he first needed to let it grow on bacteria and then transfer it to a test tube. “When we added damaged DNA to the mutant protein, it began to repair it. This means that these types of cells can resist chemotherapy treatment,” he explains.

The idea behind chemotherapy is that the tumour cells get overloaded and subsequently die. As Beláň says, “Now we know that cells with this protein can repair themselves and basically just laugh at the attempt to treat them.” He adds that in the future, knowledge of this mechanism could help researchers develop a new type of treatment that would be effective for these types of cells as well.

Beláň’s team is working on further tests, this time outside the test tube, with colleagues from the United States. “When I know that somebody is waiting for my results, I work almost non-stop, so that the research can proceed as quickly as possible,” he says. At the next stage of the research, one of his goals is to describe what the mutant protein looks like and use this knowledge to derive other important pieces of information.

Outside his studies and his research, Ondrej likes to play the guitar and run, but he doesn’t have much time for that. The University Campus Bohunice has become his second home and he has a clear idea about his future career. As he describes his dream job, “I’d like to lead my own research team and do important research that pushes the boundaries of human knowledge.”