The Nencki Institute of Experimental Biology in Warsaw, one of the largest non-university biological research centres in the country, celebrates its 100th anniversary. Its scientists study the processes that occur in cells and the molecular background of tumours and diabetes.
The institute established in 1918 by the Warsaw Scientific Society currently conducts basic interdisciplinary research in broadly understood biological sciences.
Scientists of the Nencki Institute win numerous national and foreign grants, including prestigious ones such as COFUND from the European Marie Curie Actions or the ERC Starting Grant awarded by the European Research Council. “The level of experimental work, publications and strong ties to the world science position the Institute among the leading biological research facilities in Europe” – reads the release sent to PAP.
“The Institute has significant achievements in the study of the nervous system, especially in the field of molecular, cellular and systemic background of cognitive processes. The results of our scientists allow to better understand the fundamental laws that describe the functioning of the brain, and learn how to use this knowledge in clinical practice. The plastic changes we study are a key element in processes such as learning and memory, they are also a factor in mental illness, addiction or epilepsy. Knowledge about them can be used to stimulate regeneration following brain damage, for example after stroke” – says Dr. Hanna Fabczak, Deputy Director for science at the Nencki Institute, quoted in the release.
Another important area of research at the Nencki Institute is the biological and molecular background of civilization diseases, such as cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease. The leading research topics in the Institute’s labs concentrate on questions of fundamental importance. Why do some of the body’s cells start to divide uncontrollably, and the newly formed cancer cells do not differentiate into typical cells and tissues? What molecular and biochemical processes cause insulin resistance, the harbinger of developing diabetes?
“The research conducte by our teams is on the one hand aimed at developing new methods of early diagnosis of civilization diseases, and on the other hand enables the use of appropriate therapies based on new medicinal substances. For example, our work on the causes of endothelial dysfunction and pharmacotherapy of its pathology constitutes an innovative approach to the treatment of cardiovascular disease” – Deputy Director Fabczak emphasises.
The Institute has 40 laboratories, including the Confocal Microscopy Lab, Flow and Scanning Cytometry Lab, Electron Microscopy Lab, Behavioural Tests and Electrophysiology Lab that use the latest research equipment. Modernized animal house allows to breed laboratory animals, including transgenic animals, according to the highest standards.
“In recent years, we have expanded our institute with the CePT Neurobiology Centre, in which modern core facilities deal with issues such as cellular imaging or brain imaging. The new laboratories are a solid foundation of the Institute’s future, as demonstrated by the fact that the Laboratory of Imaging Tissue Structure and Function participates in the great Euro-BioImaging project from the ESFRI European Road Map” – says Prof. Adam Szewczyk, Director of the Nencki Institute. “We have also successfully revitalized the Hydrobiological Station in Mikołajki. It has become something more than a field lab: it is a centre of creative activities addressed to the community of scientists and students” – he adds.
The Nencki Institute has always been a modern institution conducting pioneering research, often in cooperation with numerous external partners. As part of its current activities, the Institute cooperates with several dozen foreign research centres, including the German Max-Planck-Institut für Molekulare Zellbiologie und Genetik, the French Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique or the British University of Cambridge. The international conferences, symposia and workshops organized by the Institute attract hundreds of scientists from Poland and abroad.
Training scientific staff is an important part of the Institute’s activity. Over 600 young scientists have already received doctoral degrees there. The importance of its cooperation with the industry continues to grow, as evidenced by the growing number of implementations and patents. The Nencki Institute is the first Polish research facility to have met the European standards for employing researchers, HR Excellence in Research.
Another important aspect of the Nencki Institute’s activity is the promotion of science and creating its positive image. The Institute co-organizes famous popular science events such as the Brain Week, the Polish Radio and the Copernicus Science Centre Science Picnic, and the Warsaw Science Festival. Open days for schoolchildren, students and future doctoral students, as well as workshops for biology teachers have been organized in the Institute’s building – in total, they benefit more than 6,000 people each year. The achievements in the field of science promotion have been recognized by the Polish Press Agency, which in 2013 awarded the Institute in the Populariser of Science competition.
In the first years of its existence, the Institute was particularly active in the field of marine and inland hydrobiology. The Wigry Hydrobiology Station in Płociczno was established in 1920, the Marine Station in Hel foollowed in 1932, and the Polesie Station in Pinsk in 1937. The Institute’s most distinguished scholar of the inter-war period, with the highest international research output, was Prof. Jerzy Spława-Neyman, mathematician, head of the Department of Biometry. He developed the mathematical foundations of statistics and together with his students published numerous papers on the application of statistical methods in agriculture, microbiology, anthropology, genetics, economics and sociology.
After the Second World War, the rebuilt Nencki Institute gradually transformed into a typical research centre. The turning point was the book by Prof. Jerzy Konorski “Conditioned Reflexes and Neuron Organization”, published by Cambridge University Press in 1948. After 1957, a new direction emerged, led by Prof. Lech Wojtczak: bioenergetics of mitochondria. At the turn of the 1970s, muscle biochemistry research began to develop dynamically under the direction of Prof. Witold Drabikowski.
The celebrations of the 100th Anniversary of the Nencki Institute will include the ceremonial conference that will take place in November.
Photo: The Nencki Institute