„The internship has significantly broadened my horizons“,

say in unisono two N4T´s young researchers after their return from abroad

Opening of new horizons, merging of knowledge and merry social time with colleagues – these are just few experiences that Ludmila Zarska and Jan Belza have brought back to their alma mater from a month-long internship in partners´ laboratories.

Platinum as a cancer beater
Jan went to Maynooth University in Ireland to make a step further in preparation of the new derivatives of cisplatin – a well-proven anticancer substance efficient for treating the different types of cancer. „After oxidation, the cisplatin derivative is easy to conjugate to another functional group. This property allows the treatment to have a double effect – a pain-killing and a cancer-beating for example. In our case, we coupled the cisplatin with a carboxylic acid – a medium enabling its attachment to a nanocarrier,“ says Jan, a PhD student of biochemistry.

We also started experimenting with another molecular structure serving as an alternative medium. It consists of one more carbon representing another option that we hoped to be even more easily attachable to cisplatin.

Purity is a must
The next phase of preparations had been meanwhile taking place at the Czech Advanced Technology and Research Institute in Czechia.  „My job is to take the active substance that the Irish team has prepared and conjugate it to a nanocarrier, specifically the graphene-oxide flakes, that will be able to deliver it to damaged cells. There are several steps that need to be figured out in order to reach the pure and stable single nanoplatform with attached substance“, says Ludmila.

One of the big challenges was the cleansing process. To reach the objective efficiency results the samples need to be 99% pure. Two different methods – dialysis and centrifugation – were applied. Samples prepared in such a way traveled then with Ludmila to Italian ISTEC, Institute of Science and Technology for Ceramics, where the next research phase took place – a study of an interaction of the substance with the living cells.

Potential proven, lots of work ahead
„The main question is the level of cytotoxicity. In other words, if and to what extent is this active agent able to kill the cancer cells. Another issue is the stability of a chemical bond,“ adds Ludmila. „We followed up the previous research testing an efficiency of the active agent on four different cancer lines by adding another four types – two breast cancer and two brain cancer tumors.
During the process many questions arose. One of the issues we were dealing with during my internship was the long-term stability of the samples. How long will it stay stable and under what conditions? Another puzzle was a bond between a carrier and a substance. Does it stay stable enough? We were also looking into the best concentration level.
We found out a certain trend during the previous studies and wanted to see if the drug would have the same effect on new cancer lines. Many more tests need to be done yet to draw some clear conclusion. However, we are certain about the potential of the drug,“ summarizes Ludmila.

Shifts and new discoveries
Besides new research findings, both Ludmila and Jan agree that the internship has had a tremendous benefit on their professional development. „Working with chemistry on a molecular level was a new experience for me being a material chemist. When I needed cisplatin let’s say, I would order it. However, during the internship I discovered that it was actually very easy to prepare it, as well as other derivatives, myself and in a much more cost effective way. The internship truly opened another horizont for me and it shifted the way I am looking at this part of chemistry now. It moved me forward significantly,“ describes Jan.

Ludmila nods in agreement. „The benefits of being a part of N4T started for me already at the very beginning of the project. My experience with preparation of nanoplatforms of such kind was very little. It was a big challenge. The internship brought me immense satisfaction and valuable feedback. I finally got tangible results showing that something I´ve been working on for almost a year works in actuality. The chance not only to prepare the nanoplatforms but also be able to test them directly on cells made me realize how beneficial my studies of biophysics were and how fulfilling it is for me to be able to operate in both of these „worlds“ that otherwise often hold very separate views,“ shares Ludmila. 

Joy of „human science“
The time spent in partner institutions wasn´t all about work, but also about new cultural and social experiences. „I was excited about the team I joined,“ says Ludmila. „Everybody immediately switched from Italian to English so I didn´t feel excluded and was very inclusive. We spent lots of time outside of work together and are still in touch,“ she adds and Jan continues: „Hats off to my Irish colleagues. They took me among them, helped me to get familiar with the place, showed me around, and we spent some nice evenings together. Truly nice people. The rougher the nature, the kinder people,“ concludes Jan.