31. Aug. 2022

Structural virologist Pavel Plevka has been appointed as the new Chairman of the Czech Infrastructure for Integrative Structural Biology (CIISB). He succeeds structural biologist Vladimir Sklenar, who has been advocating, together with Jaroslav Koca, for establishing shared infrastructures since 2010, following the example of Western European countries. Today, CIISB is one of the leading Czech shared laboratories operated by CEITEC (Central European Institute of Technology) and BIOCEV (Biotechnology and Biomedical Centre of the Academy of Sciences and Charles University in Vestec). All CIISB laboratories have been fully operational in open access mode since 2016. The construction and operation of the CIISB infrastructure happened thanks to significant financial support from the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports (MEYS). The main objective of CIISB is to support cutting-edge research in the field of life sciences in the Czech Republic through the unique instrumentation available in shared laboratories. Each year, CIISB is used by over 500 students and scientists from the Czech Republic and abroad.

CIISB was established in 2011 at the beginning of the development of Centres of Scientific Excellence - CEITEC and BIOCEV. Following a mutual agreement, complementary laboratories for integrative structural biology were built in both centres between 2011 and 2015 with investment funds from the operational programme VaVPI. In 2011, CIISB acquired the status of an associated centre and became, after its completion, one of the 11 national Instruct-ERIC research centres equipped with state-of-the-art technologies. CIISB serves not only the Czech scientific community but also scientists from abroad. "Thanks to the generous support of the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports and their programme supporting investment and operation of large research infrastructures in 2016-2022, CIISB maintains a privileged position in the field of integrated structural biology at European and global level and contributes with more than a hundred cutting-edge scientific publications in prestigious international journals every year. In addition, it provides structural data essential for developing academic, applied and translational research in all areas of life sciences, including pharmaceutics, biomedicine and biotechnology," says Professor Vladimir Sklenar, CIISB founder and predecessor of Pavel Plevka.

Why does the Czech Republic need large research infrastructures?

Large research infrastructures such as CIISB have significantly contributed to the global competitiveness of Czech science and have revolutionised the quality and visibility of Czech research. The uniqueness of CIISB lies in the combination of state-of-the-art instrumentation and scientific expertise, which not only enables the acquisition and interpretation of data from instruments covering more than twenty key technologies but also the development of methods, the dissemination of knowledge and close collaboration between basic research centres in academia and research laboratories in the commercial sector. CIISB's infrastructure is made up of ten shared laboratories and enables, therefore, efficient use of grant resources. Thanks to the support directed to large research infrastructures, more than EUR 750 million has been reinvested during the last six years. This puts CIISB on the same level as similar centres abroad and opens the door to important international collaborations.

"Before the concept of large research infrastructures and shared laboratories existed in the Czech Republic, scientists had to use less advanced technologies or travel abroad to measure their samples, which slowed down the research process. However, time and access to the latest technologies are crucial in groundbreaking discoveries. Nowadays, however, the roles have switched, and CIISB is an attractive infrastructure even for foreign users who come to us to measure or send their samples to be measured by specialists working in our laboratories," explains Vladimir Sklenar. Such specialists are one of the greatest assets that the large research infrastructure has. Having a super-modern instrument does not automatically mean that researchers can use it effectively and get the best possible data. The employees in each shared laboratory have highly specialised training, which they often receive abroad or at workshops organised within international research infrastructure networks. Shared infrastructures are, therefore, important centres of knowledge transfer between laboratories in different parts of the world. The latest knowledge and experience exchange is the alpha and omega of cutting-edge science.

CIISB has been part of the elite European research infrastructure network Instruct-ERIC since 2011. CIISB's facilities are comparable to similar centres in France, Italy, the UK and Germany. The Czech Republic has thus become one of the most important European research centres in the field of structural biology. As a result, CIISB has gained direct access to users from academia and industry to whom it can offer its services under the umbrella of European research infrastructure.

Over the last five years, more than 3,000 users have used CIISB instruments. Their measurements have resulted in nearly 500 scientific publications, 67 of which have been published in journals belonging to the prestigious Nature Index. CIISB has organised 84 scientific courses attended by almost 1,500 students and scientists from all over the world. Thanks to CIISB, scientists from the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry have succeeded in describing how the coronavirus masks itself in the body to trick the human immune system. This ground-breaking discovery by Evzen Boura was published in the prestigious scientific journal Nature Communications and opened new doors for research of targeted treatments for coronavirus. This discovery is just one example of how large research infrastructures are helping Czech scientists to be the first in the world to make important discoveries.

"CIISB's goal for the future is to enable scientists to use highly specialised instrumentation without a lengthy investment in learning how to operate a brand-new technology. This is the only way to play in the Champions League in the science field. And this ambitious goal depends on the continuing support of large research infrastructures by the Government’s Council for Research and Innovation and by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports because quality has its price also in science," added Pavel Plevka. He will try to build on the considerable achievements of his predecessor Vladimir Sklenar.

The upcoming International Conference on Research Infrastructures ICRI 2022, which will take place in Brno on the occasion of the Czech Presidency of the EU Council, will also focus on the topic of large research infrastructures. The key issues of this conference will be the mobilisation of research infrastructures in response to the Covid-19 pandemic and the role of research infrastructures in economic recovery, and strengthening the readiness of civilisation to respond to future crisis scenarios and emergency events.


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