Dr Michał R. Szymański winner of EMBO grant
Dr Michał R. Szymański from the University of Gdańsk (Intercollegiate Faculty of Biotechnology UG&MUG) is one of the winners of a prestigious grant from the European Molecular Biology Organization – EMBO Installation Grants. The grants are awarded to outstanding young researchers who have completed a placement abroad to establish an innovative research laboratory. This year only three people from Poland have received the grant. The research group headed by Dr Szymański will be involved in the research into the mechanisms of mitochondrial DNA repair in humans which in future may contribute to the more effective recognition and treatment of cancers or neurodegenerative diseases.
This year the EMBO Installation Grants were awarded to ten outstanding young scientists from the Czech Republic, Poland, Portugal and Turkey. Amongst them there are only three scientists from Poland – Dr Michał R. Szymański from the Intercollegiate Faculty of Biotechnology of the University of Gdańsk and the Medical University of Gdańsk, Dr Anna Karnkowska from the University of Warsaw and Dr Eng. Łukasz Piątkowski from the Poznań University of Technology. The winners will receive grants to a total of 50,000 EUR a year for the period of three (maximum five) years to provide assistance in establishing an independent research group and conducting innovative research.
The EMBO Installation Grant provides support not only in establishing an innovative laboratory at the University of Gdańsk but also in all research projects involving members of Dr Szymański’s team.
“One of the main directions of our research is understanding the mechanisms of mitochondrial DNA repair in humans. Damage to mitochondrial DNA leads to mutations and mitochondrial dysfunction, which is linked not only to the process of ageing but also to numerous diseases of complex aetiology such as cancers or metabolic disorders (including diabetes) and neurodegenerative diseases (e.g. Alzheimer’s)”, explains Dr Michał R. Szymański.
Mitochondria, small cell organelles, often referred to as the “powerhouses of the cell”, generate the entire energy required for cell activity. They possess their own DNA (genetic material), that is a precise instruction according to which the enzymes of the respiratory chain (i.e. the components of the energy-producing “cell powerhouses”) are constructed. There are, however, mechanisms in the process of energy production which constantly damage mitochondrial DNA and cause mutations. These mutations, in turn, change the genetic material, thus causing defects in the newly constructed “cell powerhouses”. Nevertheless, it turns out that mitochondria have their own sets of DNA-repair tools consisting of enzymes. The correct functioning of these enzymes is crucial to energy production and as such to the proper functioning of the entire body and all the important organs such as the brain, liver or muscles, the working of which is to a large degree based on energy.
In 2007 Dr Michał R. Szymański completed his studies in biochemistry and biophysics at the University of Houston in the United States. In 2011 he received his PhD in biochemistry and molecular biology from the University of Texas. In the same year he was also awarded a prestigious scholarship (Jeane B. Kempner Postdoctoral Fellowship), thanks to which he continued his research at the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and the Department of Pharmacology of the Medical School of the University of Texas. The research contributed to understanding the mechanisms of bacterial DNA replication and repair, the structural bases for the replication of human mitochondrial DNA and the causes of the toxicity and complications related to the use of antiviral medication. In October 2017, as winner of a POLONEZ grant by the National Science Centre and a FIRST TEAM grant by the Foundation for Polish Science, Dr Szymański began working as an adjunct at the Core Facility Laboratories of the Intercollegiate Faculty of Biotechnology UG & MUG where he currently heads the Laboratory of Structural Biology. The laboratory and research group headed by Dr Szymański focuses on research into the structure of the enzymes responsible for the replication and repair of genetic material, in human as well as bacterial and viral cells. The methods employed allow a precise determination of the composition and structure of the enzymes in question. This, in turn, helps to establish their function and mode of operation, which can be subsequently employed in possible therapeutic strategies.
European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) is an organisation which brings together over 1,800 outstanding scientists specialising in natural sciences in Europe and beyond. Its main aim is to provide assistance to talented researchers at all stages of their careers, to stimulate the exchange of information and to offer help in creating a research environment in which scientists can achieve the best work results. EMBO helps young scientists to develop their research, promotes them internationally and assists in their mobility. Courses, workshops, conferences and scientific journals disseminate the latest research and provide training with regard to maintaining high standards of research practice. In addition, winners get the chance to establish contacts and receive practical support, becoming part of the prestigious EMBO Young Investigator network. EMBO also helps to shape science and research policy, seeking feedback from its community and closely following scientific trends in Europe. More information is available at: www.embo.org .