The KFU press centre has recently published a series of overviews on the OpenLabs based at the University. The Institute of Fundamental Medicine and Biology (IFM&B) is the most active KFU unit working in this area. We have invited Albert Rizvanov, the Chief Researcher of the Department of Biology and Biotechnologies, Professor of the Division of Genetics, to speak on the process of lab establishing and future OpenLabs to be launched at KFU.
‑ Mr.Rizvanov, why is it open labs that are established at KFU? Why this format?
- According to Decree 220, there have always been two programmes for visiting scientists, so called metagrants, and a related federal target programme. KFU participated in both of them, and in 2012-2013 we have won four grants. As a result we have accumulated a great experience of collaboration with foreign researchers which are usually either Russian speaking USSR immigrants, or foreign citizens unfamiliar with the Russian reality. Nevertheless, they have never dealt with or have already forgotten the details of Russian bureaucratism. They are ready for science, but not for paperwork. Our University has backed infrastructure, new labs and common use centres as a part of the development programme and all these facilities need to be used for research projects and by best experts, from abroad in particular. If a device is available, it should be used 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to produce “scientific profit”. That is why an OpenLab concept has been developed to make scientists head projects and labs, rather than be drowning in paperwork.
‑ What is the usual process of establishing an Open Lab?
‑ They are usually established with an existing research team possessing related experience. These teams exist in structural units with adequate facilities. A visiting scientist brings in a project and heads it. It is not optimal for us to create a new lab for a new coming researcher. First of all, it happens that we have a lab with adequate equipment working in a close area. Secondly, a foreign researcher cannot stay in Russia all the time whereas a number of legal and financial matters should be solved. That is why the scientist should be taken care of by one of the KFU supervisor. His laboratory is granted the status of an OpenLab and operates as a scientific incubator. To be a supervisor does not mean to instruct, it is about being a kind of an interface between KFU units, state ministries and a visiting scientist, helping implement his ideas, prepare required documents, fix him up for a job, and organize procurement.
‑ A supervisor is necessary for cooperation with a research team as well as practical arrangements, isn't he?
‑ That's right, the university does not aim to just hire a scientist, but create new research teams, schools, so that people working in such labs could gain experience and become more competent. And in case funding is cut off, we'll still have human resources that are of greatest importance. Therefore major investments are made into research teams. To constantly head these teams we need onsite senior masters to motivate young people and keep them up. Otherwise the goal is unfocused and the productivity goes down.
‑ Let's speak about the activities of the labs. Do OpenLabs' teams interrelate with each other?
‑ An open lab concept implies an incubator for several projects united by an idea, by science, researches, and facilities. Each project is headed by an outstanding researcher. The above mentioned supervisor liaises between OpenLabs and organizes teams' interrelation. It is cross-disciplinary researches that spark interest nowadays. Some of our scientists work with animals, others conduct molecular experiments. So the supervisor joining these teams can brings the projects to a brand new level of using animals and technologies in molecular biology, cell biology, and genetics.
‑ What OpenLabs are now available at you Institute?
‑ We have 16 OpenLabs. My laboratory, in particular, studies gene and cell technologies; more specifically, development of gene and cell therapy of diseases, characteristics of humoral and cell-bound immunity during infectious and autoimmune diseases, molecular mechanisms of pathogenesis of virus infections.
Neurobiology Lab headed by Rustem Khazipov from France runs neurophysiological projects on brain activity and special aspects of brain development .
Another interesting laboratory is Pathogenesis Markers; it explores RNA and interacting ferments, nucleases in particular, in the pathology of diseases including vascular heart diseases.
Tissue engineering is the focus of Bionanotechnology Laboratory. The lab addresses the use of nanomaterial to modify microbial and human cells, to create biosensors and in tissue engineering. These cells may be manipulated in order to build additional supracellular structures; it can enable a new trend in tissue engineering.
Extreme Biology is explored by Oleg Gusev, who gained vast experience working in Japan. He is responsible for space biology. His lab studies organisms living in extreme circumstances, with lack of water, at low temperatures, in zero-gravity, or radiation environments. The extreme biology explores organisms' protectability and how these properties help face out extreme environments. The research aims to create genetically modified organisms able to rub through loads. Development of cryoconservation methods, freeze-drying of cells and tissues for medical use is also crucial.
Another laboratory, Omyx Technologies, based at the Common Use Centre focuses upon educing genetic and molecular markers of cancer and infectious diseases; it explores microbes' populations in soils and develops methods to clean soils polluted with petroleum refining and chemical wastes. The lab also searches for microorganisms able to attack environmental pollutants.
Somatic Cell Reprogramming OpenLab offers a technology that enables by means of genetic manipulations to create any adult human cell into a stem cell able to renovate, in other words to produce cells similar to itself or any other cell of the organism. The most unique for its characteristics is an embryonic stem cell that only exists in the protembryo and can turn into any human cell. To get it means to destroy the embryo that is against ethical, religious and legal norms. The technology developed by the lab enables to receive cells similar to embryonic ones out of somatic cells. To do it a blood sample or a small piece of skin is enough to grow cells and reprogram them.
Here is a clear example. To invent a drug, it is required to test it; the easiest way is to receive diseased cells, add a medicine and monitor if they have recovered or not. But it is quite complicated to get cells of the patient suffering from neurodegenerative disease, for instance. It requires interference with his brain that is sometimes impossible, you see. On the other side, we can take a small piece of patient's skin and receive fibroplasts, then reprogram them into induced pluripotent stem cell similar to embryonic ones, and then make them turn into nerve cells by means of certain methods.
Thus, we have a patient's nerve or any other cells. The moment we get them, having grown the required number, we can use them to screen various medications, to search for the causes of a disease, and the genetic or molecular breakage of cells. It will enable new treatments.
Structural Biology Lab is headed by Marat Yusupov, KFU Supervisory Board member, who has vast experience in exploring 3D-structure of proteins, its detachment, crystallization and analysis. If the 3D-structure is available, it is possible to run virtual screening of medications by certain computational modeling techniques. Laboratory experiments follow up when required information is received. Yusupov's lab experiment on ribosomes, and binding and inhibiting substances to develop next generation antibiotics and anticancer drugs
Neuropharmaсology Lab headed by academician Yevgeny Nikolsky, focuses on neurobiology. The lab team has a vast experience in the area, especially in motor systems neurophysiology and screening of drugs which directly affect motoneurons and variously influence brain neurons and peripheral nervous system.
DNA Sensors OpenLab addressing biomedicine and pharmaceuticals is run by Butlerov Institute of Chemistry. Its scientists use DNA moleculars as a part of biochips, thus developing detection methodology for molecular entities or biological factors. It is about creating biochips to detect pathogens and diagnose cancer and other diseases.
Microbal Biotechnologies OpenLab implements several projects. One of them deals with exploring salmonella and its interaction with a cell that may lead to the development of a new drug. The project is supervised by Margarita Sharipova, in cooperation with a visiting scientist Lidia Bogomolnaya (Texas, USA). Under another project we develop transgenic plants expressing various microbal proteins. These plants can, for example, turn inorganic phosphates nondigestible for ordinary plants into organic ones. Thus, we find a solution for organic phosphorous fertilizers.
We also focus on protein and cell interaction as a related laboratory, headed by specially invited Rustem Litvinov. Here we research protein-protein and protein-cell interactions molecularly; it addresses the problems of blood coagulability and autoimmune diseases. There are unique experimental methods enabling to study the interaction of single molecules.
Molecular and Biochemical Concept of Cancer Pathogenesis and Therapy Laboratory was established in cooperation with the Cancer Research Centre (USA). It is supervised by our professor Zinaida Abramova and American scientist Ilya Serebriysky. The laboratory focuses on screening new anticancer drugs and studying molecular basis of cancer progression. If we learn the difference between healthy and diseased cells, we'll be able to invent adequate medications. There is another project of this team, it is about clever polymers with the ability of self-assembly, aimed to transfer medications to tissues and control their ejection at required place. The laboratory develops new biopolymer substances similar to intercellular matrix that can be used in tissue engineering to create artificial tissue analogs for regenerative medicine.
Paleoantropology and Paleogenetics Lab reconstructs the past at the genetic level. The OpenLab team studies ancient materials, burials, minerals, describes ancient nations of the world, explores the diseases of the past, and ancient microbes.
Combinatorial Chemistry and Neurobiology Lab searches for new medical drugs, use of molecular techniques, develop new test systems for screening neurodegenerative diseases drugs.
You can see that most laboratories focus on neurobiology, the priority research area in our country and all over the world. In addition, neurophysiological school has always been very strong in Kazan, at Medical University, the Academy of Science, and now at the federal university.
‑ Do we only speak about fundamental research here or there is practical application?
‑ You see, all these laboratories were established in 2014; immediate practical application is beyond expectations. We implement the competitive growth programme; it is medium and long term. No doubt, we solve up-to-the-minute problems, to attract and retain experts, in particular, to improve infrastructure. We have and work on strategic mission to train human resources and transfer fundamental knowledge into practical medicine.
‑ What is next? What other laboratories are planned?
‑ For example, CVD Mortality Factors Research Lab will study cause-effect relations between high mortality, general health index and the level of alcoholism in Russia. The lab is aimed to find solutions to prevent, take prophylactic measures and, thus, lengthen life.
An interesting idea is to establish Tissue Engineering and 3D Bioprinting Lab to develop new methods of creating bioartificial organs and blood vessels. It is perfect to print a heart with all the cells and blood vessels to transplant it to a man. It's a longshot research, but already started and we are already implementing some tissue engineering methods.
We also think about a joint project with Dmitry Tayursky, Deputy Director of KFU Institute of Physics, to use physical techniques, electronic paramagnetic resonance in biomedicine, in particular, methods of cell and tissue pathosis research. If we know something is wrong at the molecular level, we can learn how to diagnose the disease.
We have so many plans, it is crucial to make them real.
‑ Thank you for your time. Good luck to your team.