Cancer cells can be beautiful, says Kanako Suzuki, author of the best microscopy image

Kanako Suzuki is in her fifth year of the English-language General Medicine program. She enjoys classical music and during her stay in Brno, she fell in love with chlebíčky. Mostly, however, she is passionate about research, which sets her apart from most of her foreign classmates. "Usually they just want to become doctors and follow the most direct path. And some may not even know that they can do research while studying," she muses. In any case, her passion for scientific work is inspiring, as is her recent winning of the first prize for the best microscopy picture organised annually by the Cellular Image Core Facility at CEITEC MU.

11 Apr 2024 Václav Tesař

No description

I have visited the Czech Republic before, with my parents on vacation. My parents fell in love with Prague and I dreamed of returning to Europe one day. When I was considering what to do next after high school, I thought about universities back home in Japan or the United States, but studying there would be too expensive. Studying in Brno was cheaper and I also liked studying in English, which Japanese universities don't offer.

Most foreigners associate the Czech Republic mainly with Prague and I'm sure you've considered studying there as well. Why did Brno win out in the end?
Prague is also beautiful, but perhaps too attractive. What I like about Brno is that it is smaller and quieter and I can concentrate more on my studies. Moreover, when I came across Brno's promotional materials on the internet, I was already attracted by the modern university buildings and CEITEC.

What were your first impressions of Brno and the Czech Republic? There is a difference between coming here for a few days on holiday and coming to study for a few years...
It is! We were in Prague in spring, when everything was in bloom, while I arrived in Brno at the end of summer, so I was facing a gloomy autumn and a cold winter. I felt a bit isolated, and in January I had quite difficult exams, but gradually I started to get used to it, made friends and found colleagues in the lab. The facilities for students here are excellent and it is also beneficial for a person from abroad to not be alone but to meet many foreign colleagues.

When was the moment you could say you were settled?
Sometime in my third or fourth year, so fairly recently. (laughs)

How challenging was it to get used to study routines?
I enjoy studying, so it wasn't particularly stressful for me. Except maybe the exams. But the teachers are helpful and whenever I ask them a question, they always help.

Do you have a comparison with the form of higher education in the Czech Republic and Japan?
My sister is in her third year at the medical school in Japan, so yes. Medical education there takes six years too, but otherwise, it's quite different. The first year you also learn subjects like mathematics or politics, it's more general. You don't learn medicine at all in the first year. That comes into the study plan gradually. The difference is also that everyone has to do one year of compulsory research, which is not the case in the Czech Republic. So I was lucky to find a laboratory here where I could work.

Didn't you entice your sister to come to Brno to study with you?
I asked her once, but she didn't want to. She wants to stay in Japan with her beloved manga and cartoons... (laughs)

“In Japan, you do what elders tell you to do. Here I have freedom, nobody forces me to do anything. I've learned to be open and I know I can be who I want to be.”

Kanako Suzuki

How did you get into Professor Masařík's lab at the Department of Pathophysiology?
In the first semester, I was at the Department of Biology, but after the covid, the situation changed and I could no longer attend the lab so that I could combine my lab work with my studies and at the same time it suited the supervisors. So at the beginning of my third year, I decided to change. At that time, Jarda (doc. MUDr. Jaromír Gumulec, Ph.D.) gave a lecture on cancer, it was interesting and I approached him to see if I could work in his laboratory. I had to chase him away, but eventually I did. (laughs) Thanks to my work at the Department of Biology, I already knew the basics of working with cells, which probably also helped.

You're one of the very few international students in the General Medicine program who are also doing research. Can you think of any reasons why more of your classmates don't get passionate about science?
The first-year exams are challenging and I think most people study simply because they want to become doctors. And they go for the most direct route without getting distracted by anything else. And some may not even know that they can do research. We spend a lot of time in the hospital, so maybe they don't even know the possibilities of labs. But I've told some of my classmates about my lab work and they've become more interested.

How do you feel about the teachings in the hospital?
The elevators there are pretty scary! (laughs) But seriously, I like it a lot. Because in Japan you don't get the opportunity to be present at, say, transplants or autopsies.

What exactly do you do in the lab?
I focus on mitochondrial networks, metabolism and their possible influence on cancer development. I use confocal microscopy and atomic force microscopy techniques.

How did you get excited about this field specifically?
At first, I watched over Jarda's shoulder and focused on mitochondria. The images from the confocal microscope reminded me of scenes from outer space and spaceships. I thought they were amazing, and I fell in love with the stuff. And I don't want this to sound inappropriate, but I fell in love with cancer cells. They're growing so fast, they're getting stronger, like they're trying to survive. And they can be beautiful to look at. Watching the process under a microscope is extremely interesting.

With one of these "spaceships" you recently won the competition for the best photograph organised annually by the Cellular Image Core Facility at CEITEC MU, right?
Yes, that's the mitochondria and actin cytoskeleton of the PC3 cell line from a metastatic prostate tumour. It was a surprising discovery for me because I don't usually observe cells this large. And it took me a lot of work to get a good enough image of the cytoskeleton. Eventually, I did, although it took two years to master the techniques that made it possible.

The winning image by Kanako Suzuki in the CELLIM Best Microscopy Picture Contest 2023.

Associate Professor Gumulec praises that your abilities are comparable to PhD students...
Jarda's very nice. I have freedom in the lab, and if I don't know something, he will give me advice or direct me to where I can find the answer.

You're in your fifth year, only one year to finish your studies in Brno. Where do you see your future?
I have no idea. We are now looking into the possibility of a research fellowship at Harvard and the upcoming period will probably be a turning point. Maybe I'll go straight into Ph.D. studies, maybe I'll go back to Japan. It remains to be seen.

Whatever your future holds, what are the most important lessons and skills you will take away from your time in Brno?
Not exactly a skill, but I would say a certain attitude towards people. In Japan, you do what elders tell you to do. Here I have freedom, nobody forces me to do anything. I've learned to be open and I know I can be who I want to be. I probably wouldn't have realised that if I had stayed in Japan. I think I would have remained a quiet and shy girl there. (laughs)

More articles

All articles

You are running an old browser version. We recommend updating your browser to its latest version.

More info