Easy Return from Maternal Leave Thanks to MU Grant: Katarína Chalásová

The Masaryk University initiative with the internal grant GAMU Career Restart, managed by Grant Agency of Masaryk University helps to restart a scientific career after interruption of research work. The grant supports reintegration of researchers into research teams. At the end of the year 2021, three employees from the Faculty of Medicine MU succeeded with their application. We are bringing you an interview with one of them: Mgr. Katarína Chalásová, Ph.D.

23 Feb 2022

Let’s start from the beginning please. May I ask what were you working on before your career break?

Since 2010, I have been a part of a research group of prof. MUDr. Kateřina Kaňková, Ph.D. “Diabetic Complication Molecular Pathophysiology” at the Department of Histology and Embryology, which was also when I started as a Ph.D. student and currently I work as an assistant professor.

The research group has long been studying the microvascular complications of diabetes, especially diabetic kidney disease and some other related issues (e.g. gestational diabetes). The pillar of the research group’s experimental work is the study of the role of genetic predisposition to renal damage, the study of molecular pathways responsible for kidney disease in vitro and in vivo using prospective and retrospective studies in patients with T2DM in collaboration with clinical workplaces of university hospitals.

Doctor, after how long are you returning to research activities?

I interrupted the full-time work due to pregnancy at the beginning of 2018. For a while, I was still involved in the work, depending on what my condition allowed (more of “from the office” work, laboratory work is contraindicated during pregnancy), shortly before the delivery (September of 2018) I interrupted my work completely.

Have you been in close contact with your colleagues from the team?

I partially returned to work about six months after giving birth, however, it was not possible time-wise and I also got pregnant again (2020). Therefore, even though I tried to maintain both professional and personal contact with the workplace and colleagues, it was really difficult to harmonize both time and mental possibilities. However, I visited the workplace (at least informally) often, sometimes with children, and I at least tried to have an overview of the processes, news, and successes of my colleagues.

Is it difficult to get back on a moving train after an interruption?

Definitely yes. Even though I was trying to keep track, reading professional publications, communicating with my colleagues, watching expert conferences and meetings, (Covid restrictions, because of which some of the meetings were online, paradoxically helped me). Starting to work fully again is more difficult and takes a longer start. However, the helpfulness and support of my colleagues in the research group is tremendous and they make it much easier.

This year you succeeded in GA MU Career Restart with the project Mechanisms of the renoprotective effect of SGLT2 inhibition in T2DM patients. How did you find out about the grant and how was the process of preparation for you?

It was my colleague Lukáš Pácal, who informed me about the grant and also significantly helped me with the writing of the grant proposal. The leader of our research group, prof. MUDr. Kateřina Kaňková, Ph.D. was a big inspiration and supported me as well, for which I would like to thank both of them very much. The key is to have a plan and a vision of what the grant will cover. Writing a proposal, sending it, and waiting is then easy :-D

What is your project about?

Diabetic kidney disease is one of the most serious complications of diabetes mellitus developing in up to 40% of diabetics. The disease is associated with significant morbidity and mortality and effective, kidney-targeted treatment has not been available until recently. The situation has recently radically changed with the drugs collectively referred to as glifosins (inhibitors of glucose transporters in the kidney SGLT2), which not only have an anti-diabetic effect but also reduce cardiovascular and renal risk.

Our goal in the project will be to contribute to the understanding of the mechanism of this “protection”, which until now hasn’t been fully described. We will monitor a group of diabetic patients from the start of glifosin treatment for the next twelve months. During this time, we will obtain biological samples from them for biochemical and molecular processing. This in vivo study (live patients) will be complemented with in vitro study – the cultivation of cells in dishes with the addition of glifosins and studying their effect of selected molecular pathways.

What is the period of support of the project and how will it help you to synchronize professional and private life?

The project will be implemented by the end of 2023. The funds will allow the purchase of material needed to achieve the objectives. Labour costs are also a significant benefit. Shortly after the birth, there is the question, of whether it “pays off to leave the child because of work”. During working hours, I must have babysitting secured for my kids, which is not an easy or cheap matter, and without this financial assistance, it would be extremely difficult to reconcile maternal responsibility and the desire to return to work full time.

Doctor, this semester you have also prepared several courses for the FM MUs Junior Academy programme, which is addressing talented high school students. What can the students look forward to in your courses, what will they be about?

I have prepared five topics for the Junior Academy FM MU that I am convinced will be interesting and even useful for students. In my courses, we will talk about how genes are inherited, how to "cook" a protein according to a DNA recipe, what a cell is and everything that happens in it, or how a tumour cell behaves and what distinguishes it from its healthy neighbour. I am particularly looking forward to the course on diabetes because, apart from the fact that it has been my professional focus for many years, I think it is important to inform young people about the dangers and risk factors of this civilizational disease, which everyone knows from their surroundings.

What motivates you to teach talented high school students? What do you think is the overall impact of teaching the university curriculum to students who are still studying in high school on research and science?

I have always enjoyed teaching potential young scientists or doctors. My goal is to convey something of what I enjoy about science, to show how science can be fun, fascinating, useful. It's a challenge to present a university curriculum to high school students in a way that makes them understand and like the topic. And I dare to say I'm succeeding. It is very inspiring to talk to young enthusiasts, teaching is a form of relaxation for me. At the same time, I believe that we are talking about our future students, and they then come to the faculty better prepared, not only in terms of knowledge, but somehow they have a better overview of what to expect from the university, what their options are, many of them get so excited about science that they get involved in research practically from the first year, or at least they know where to direct their interest. Especially in these "misinformed times", it is important to show people how science is done.

About the scientist

In 2010, Mgr. Katarína Chalásová, Ph.D. graduated with a Master’s in Molecular Biology and Genetics at the Faculty of Science MU, and then she started her postgraduate studies at the Faculty of Medicine MU. Her supervisor at that time and also her mentor since then has been prof. MUDr. Kateřina Kaňková, Ph.D.

Dr. Chalásová quickly mastered molecular and genetic methods used in the workplace. The results of experiments throughout the postgraduate studies were regularly presented at national and international conferences and led to the publication of several papers in journals with an impact factor. In addition, she was a supervisor of several undergraduate students, who joined their research group and she was also involved in teaching Pathological Physiology of Faculty of Medicine students. In 2017, she successfully defended her doctoral thesis on the topic of “Functional analysis of genetic variants in genes associated with glycotoxic injury” and received her Ph.D.

In 2020, their research group established cooperation with several young diabetologists and cardiologists from the University Hospital Brno – Bohunice and together they prepared the grant proposal. Recently, Dr. Chalásová has been involved in establishing the practical aspect of future cooperation.

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