The Werner von Siemens Award for 2022 in the category The Best Dissertation was awarded to Anna Petráčková from the Department of Immunology, the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry at Palacký University Olomouc for her work dealing with the research of new biomarkers and refinement of the analysis of existing ones, using new molecular techniques in haemato-oncological and autoimmune diseases. The research of biomarkers allows tailor-made treatment for patients. Associate Professor Eva Kriegová was also awarded as Petráčková’s supervisor.
Anna Petráčková is very appreciative of winning the Werner von Siemens Award. “The award is a further motivation for me and an acknowledgement that the research I am involved in is of high quality and that it makes sense to carry on in it. I very much hope that this award will help me pursue follow-up research goals,” said the young scientist, who, after graduating from the UP Faculty of Science, was attracted by the multidisciplinary and practical dimension of the research of Kriegová’s team at the Department of Immunology of the UP Faculty of Medicine.
In her award-winning doctoral thesis, Petráčková summarises the results of nine original papers published in impact journals. The studies, which are based on the collaboration of Olomouc experts from the UP Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry and University Hospital Olomouc and bioinformaticians from the VSB – Technical University of Ostrava, have revealed a number of candidate biomarkers for the investigated diseases that can improve patient care and adapt treatment procedures to the requirements of precision medicine. This approach takes into account individual variability in genes, cellular and molecular profiles, environment and lifestyle in each person; based on this variability, biomarkers can be derived that function as biological indicators of disease progression or treatment efficacy.
One of the practical results of the work is an online calculator for setting the sensitivity of sequencing methods for diagnostic laboratories. It is already being used in clinical practice because it is essential for the correct identification of small clones with pathogenic mutations in cancer, which have an impact on its development and prognosis. The paper describing the calculator, with Petráčková as its first author, has been cited more than 60 times in two years.
“Our study provided specific recommendations for diagnostic laboratories regarding the setting of sequencing parameters for the desired sensitivity of the diagnostic test. Thanks to the online calculator, the lab workers can enter the desired sensitivity themselves, and the calculator will calculate the necessary sequencing coverage level,” said the author, who continues to study biomarkers in haemato-oncological and autoimmune diseases. For example, she is currently involved in a project focusing on endocrine orbitopathy, a serious eye disease in patients with autoimmune thyroid disease.
Petráčková’s dissertation was rated as exceptional by her supervisor Eva Kriegová, who was also awarded. According to the associate professor of the Department of Immunology, the thesis is extremely complex, and the student has demonstrated a deep knowledge of several medical disciplines. “She has also carried out a number of experiments using different methodological laboratory approaches, from sequencing, where we find out the order of nucleotides in genetic information, to cytometry, where we look at how cells look, how they are activated, and what functional properties they have,” she said, adding that she also appreciates Petráčková’s familiarity with new findings and scientific data, good communication within the team, and manual dexterity. “The way she works is ideal for every supervisor,” concluded Kriegová.
The Werner von Siemens Award has been awarded by Siemens to the best students, teachers and young scientists in the Czech Republic for the twenty-fifth time. As in previous years, expert juries selected the best works, projects, and personalities dealing with technical and scientific topics. A total of 493 entries were received for this year’s competition, out of which 32% were women. A total sum of €32,000 was distributed among the nineteen winners. Palacký University has been represented among the winners several times in the past, most recently last year, when the award for basic research went to a team led by Bruno de la Torre from UP CATRIN. You can read more about the award, one of the most important independent initiatives of its kind in the Czech Republic, here.
Collaboration between the UP Department of Immunology and the Technical University of Ostrava
In writing her dissertation, entitled Nové molekulární přístupy k citlivé detekci biomarkerů v éře precizní medicíny (Novel Molecular Approaches to Ultrasensitive Biomarker Detection in the Era of Precision Medicine), the award-winning Anna Petráčková was able to rely on the collaboration between Olomouc immunologists and the Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the VSB – Technical University Ostrava, which has lasted for more than six years. The Olomouc department collaborates with Ostrava bioinformaticians on the analysis of research data, especially data from modern high-throughput methods such as next-generation sequencing and optical mapping. The cooperation has been supported by several projects, resulting not only in papers published in the most important scientific journals, but also in establishment of a Bioinformatics and Computational Biology doctoral programme, among other things.