Life@BioMed X: 5 Questions to Michał

End of October, one of our neuroscience research projects in collaboration with Boehringer Ingelheim has been successfully concluded after four years. A good opportunity to ask Dr. Michał Ślęzak, group leader of the research team BMP (Brain Microcircuits in Psychiatric Diseases), how he experienced the project, the work with his team and life at the BioMed X Institute.

Dr. Michał Ślęzak, Group Leader Team BMP

BioMed X: “Could you sum up your project in a few words?”

Dr. Michał Ślęzak: “The main goal of our project was to explore novel concepts to treat major depression, the most prevalent mental disorder in the world. Current strategies counteract deficits in neuromodulators, such as serotonin or noradrenaline, but they are far away from optimal.
We decided to look at the problem from a different perspective: In the nervous system, neurons are surrounded by several types of glial cells which control many aspects of nervous system functioning. Despite numerous observations indicating their dysfunction in depression, astrocytes, a subtype of glial cell was neglected as a therapeutic target up until now. So, what we did was to employ an interdisciplinary approach to understand the contribution of astrocytes to neurobiological phenotypes of depression and to investigate how stress, a major risk factor for depression, induces these deficits. Thanks to our broad approach, supported by pioneering methods developed throughout the project, we were able to identify novel molecular pathways affected in depression. We are proud to state that our results led to proposing new astrocyte-based approaches for treating depression.”

BioMed X: “You worked in this project for the past four years. How did you experience your work and life at BioMed X Institute? Would you have done anything differently? “

MS: “I had a great time at BioMed X Institute. What I enjoyed most was the diversity of the BioMed X topics and teams that offered a lot of possibilities for unexpected collaborations within the teams and external partners and mentors. What I can say for our team is that we all really benefited from regular supervision by senior mentors, as it created a space for scientific exploration with frequent feedback. Particularly inspiring were BioMed X’s retreats where all the research teams working on different topics were able to see the full picture of all other projects: I was always impressed by the dynamics, creativity and ambition existing in those retreats and proud of being part of such an excellent research environment.

BioMed X: “Let’s talk about your team…How did working in an interdisciplinary team influence your and your team’s daily work?

MS: “I was lucky to recruit scientists sharing with me the same passion and dedication – though I have to admit that none of us had real experience in what became our daily business. It was great to learn together and see members of the team growing not only scientifically but also personally. Research work at BioMed X always means working with clear and tangible results. We had to come up with monthly reports, which of course was a considerable challenge as they created inevitable pressure. This arrangement required mental preparation, as daily research work is quite different from ‘never-ending projects’, often the case in academia. On the other hand, it rarely happens that early-career scientists get positive feedback from senior scientists on a regular base throughout the whole project-term.”

BioMed X: “How was the cooperation with the project’s partner Boehringer Ingelheim?”

MS: “The cooperation between our team and our partner Boehringer Ingelheim has been excellent and I am very much looking forward to continue interacting with Boehringer Ingelheim from my new position at Łukasiewicz Research Network – PORT in Wrocław, Poland. Some parts of the project were only possible due to a very open and trustful communication between team BMP and Boehringer Ingelheim. In some cases, Boehringer Ingelheim offered us specific support, e.g. providing resources for the transcriptome studies; in other cases, members of our team shared their expertise with Boehringer Ingelheim staff, including training at the BioMed X Institute. Throughout the project, the team members participated in international conferences and workshops, which – together with gaining access to the scientific network of Boehringer Ingelheim – created many opportunities to build a rich network of collaborators.”

BioMed X: “What are your most important takeaways from your time with BioMed X as a scientist? Any recommendations for scientists at the beginning of their career?

MS: “. I can really highly recommend to every scientist at the beginning of his career to apply for a position at BioMed X Institute: Just send your application for BioMed X bootcamp and experience a unique opportunity to participate in top-notch scientific brainstorming. If you made it in one of the research teams, then be pragmatic! Perfect experiments are rarely possible. Working within a research environment that is focused on creativity-driven open research combined with clear deliverables, the challenge is to choose those experiments which are critical for the whole picture and then to focus on timely delivery and publication.”