4. Dec. 2018

Press release, Brno, 4 December 2018

Yesterday, a prestigious award of Neuron Foundation was granted to Marek Mráz, a successful scientist of CEITEC and University Hospital in Brno, as a recognition of his research focused on chronic lymphatic leukemia a B-cell lymphoma, primarily for the study of so-called BCR signalling pathway. This activation of this pathway is active predominantly in the lymph nodes, and drives the B cell malignancies. Thanks to the research of its rules and specifics, it is possible to understand aggressiveness of leukemia and lymphomas and to propose their targeted treatment.

Neuron awards are granted at the end of each year in seven supported fields – social science, medicine, mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology and computer science. The award for young promising scientists contains a financial remuneration and reflects the achieved scientific results and, if applicable, the scientific agenda of the given scientist. This award has a substantial motivation aspect for further research activities – after two years, the recipients of the Neuron award in this category are required to submit to the Scientific Board of Neuron Foundation a report on their professional growth.

In total, ten awards were granted this year in three categories – in addition to lifelong contribution to science, three significant scientific discoveries were rewarded and six young talented scientists. The international Scientific Board of the Foundation participated in the selection of successful candidates this year, thus ensuring world class professional standard of the award recipients. In total, the award recipients divided between them a record breaking amount of CZK 9 million, provided exclusively from private resources of Neuron Foundation donors.

At this occasion, we asked Marek Mráz:

What influences the directions of your research and the routes you take?

There is no universal answer to this. Basically, we have two sources of motivation that determine what we research in the laboratory. The first one is the actual process of our research work. Whenever we discover anything, additional questions arise that we have to resolve. For example, Gabriela Pavlasová, a PhD student in my team, described about two years ago the mechanism regulating the level of CD20 molecule. CD20 is used fo more than twenty years as a therapeutic target in B cell leukemia and lymphoma cells. Logically, she wanted to find out why CD20 is present on the cell-surface of malignant B cells, i.e. why this molecule is more strongly expressed in the lymph nodes. And so Gabriela started to study the function itself. It is a natural follow-up of the research and a step-by-step revealing of further principles. We get to understand a little bit and we long to understand another little bit of the biology of the given disease. Or hopefully a bigger piece.

Another source of inspiration is a clear clinical problem faced in the practice. We intensively collaborate with physicians and sometimes we for example learn from them that there is a group of patients where the disease, despite the same initial state, becomes more aggressive or the disease does not respond to the treatment. In clinical terms, there is usually a is a guide line how to approach such patients, but we are not biologically sure why the disease behaves differently. And so we try to address a clinical issue that exists in the field of oncology and of which the doctors have informed us.

This is also the case of a situation where we know that a certain existing drug (BCR inhibitor) works very well in patients with chronic lymphatic leukemia. Paradoxically, however, it cannot completely cure any of these patients. The patients do respond to the treatment, but the disease keeps returning. Thus, we are dealing with the scientific question what could be added to or combined with this drug to achieve a deeper response to control or completely cure the disease.

How long does it take before actual application of your particular discovery in the clinical practice. Do you have the chance to see it used?

It depends on what the discovery relates to and what exactly we discover. In the case of the description of the regulation and functions of CD20 protein, the physicians and pharmaceutical companies can quite quickly and rationally determine the design of clinical tests, for example in the case of combination treatment. The breakthrough can be expected relatively quickly in these cases, the impacts can be possibly seen within several years. The companies and physicians can quite quickly adjust the tested combinations of drugs that already exist. If, however, we are targeting our research on a completely new drug, the clinical testing is a matter of a very long time.