2019 02 11

Geographic Range of Scientific Exchange Programme Grows

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Protecting human brain cells from ischemic damage, dendritic cell-based vaccines for fighting cancer and the fourth industrial revolution, currently breaking conventions in business models all over the world – these are the pioneering areas of science in which representatives of Lithuanian universities and institutes sought to gain experience at the most advanced international centres of research.

Initiated by the Agency for Science, Innovation and Technology (MITA), the Open Access to Science and Research exchange programme (MITAP II) aims to develop the ability of scientists, researchers and other specialists to identify services that are necessary for research and commercialisetheresults of R&D.Thescientific exchange programme targets topics such as technological transferral, auditing, commercialisation, intellectual property management and scientific marketing.

The range of specialty areas offered by international research institutions participating in the exchange is substantial: from natural resources and advanced agricultural technology, new product development and renewable energy to biomedicine and biotechnology, material science and nanotechnology, laser and light technology, engineering, information and communications technology.

Curing the Incurable

“In fall of last year, I was awarded a MITA fellowship and spent three months at The Cell Factory, a Belgian R&D company in Niel. I was there to learn about new technology and acquire practical skills that would be useful in developing medicine of biological origin,” explains Dr. Gabrielis Kundrotas of the National Cancer Institute (NVI).

The Cell Factory develops innovative products using mesenchymal stem cell exosomes from human umbilical cords. According to Dr. Kundrotas, exosomes are small vesicles that contain biologically active materials, which can produce various therapeutic effects. Research of these effects is a new branch of science, and the exosomes themselves are potentially the next generation of drugs for diseases that were previously thought to be incurable.

Dr. Kundrotas’ interest in the potential of exosomes dates back several years, when he began to prepare for his doctoral dissertation, plan the study he would be conducting and search for opportunities to develop his knowledge of this new field abroad. During his time in Belgium, Dr. Kundrotas learned to produce and derive exosomes according to standards required for certain pharmaceutical products and to characterise these particles.

The experience Dr. Kundrotas gained was incredibly useful – upon his return to Lithuania, he joined the team driving a joint project recently launched by the NVI Immunology Lab and the Lithuanian biotechnology company Froceth. The purpose of the project is to use cancer cell-derived exosomes to ‘train’ dendritic cells to recognise these malignant cells and destroy them more effectively. The team has a clear-cut and applicable goal in mind – to create an innovative drug.

Protecting Brain Cells

In fall of last year, Dr. Silvija Jankevičiūtė of the Lithuanian University of Health Sciences (LSMU) interned for two months at the University of Lund in Sweden, one of the world’s top hundred universities. At the Stem Cell Laboratory for CNS Disease Modelling at the Lund University Biomedical Centre, Dr. Jankevičiūtė received a primer in the latest methods that use induced pluripotent stem cell cultures.

For the junior researcher of the Laboratory for Research of the Pharmacological Regulation of Pathological Processes and Drug Metabolism at the LSMU Institute of Neuroscience, the knowledge and practical experience she gained from the exchange will be of critical use as she studies how human cells die in the event of a stroke and how to protect them from ischemic damage. This is one of the main aims of a project entitled A Study of Ischemic Brain Damage and Protective Mechanisms: Mitochondrial Non-Specific Pores and Cell Death in Ageing Brainsand initiated under a universal grant programme put forward by the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences.

About the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Paulius Kozlovas, head of technology transferral projects at the KTU (Kaunas University of Technology) National Innovation and Business Centre, also spent two months at the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineeringin Stuttgart, Germany. Wishing to support his interest in the fourth industrial revolution, he searched for opportunities to learn from the experience of specialists with greater expertise in the field.

 “Organisation of the manufacturing process is a German strong suit, and it was in Germany, back in 2011, that the now-fashionable term ‘Industry 4.0’ was coined. One of the drivers of this initiative is the Fraunhofer network, considered one of the main generators of innovation in German industry. It also contributes to shaping the country’s innovation strategies,” explains Kozlovas, “The Fraunhofer Institute of Industrial Engineering is oneof nearly 70 network members. The research projects it undertakes are exclusively in the thematic area of Industry 4.0. All of this meant that this place was ideally suited to my needs.”

As a member of the exchange programme, Kozlovas had the opportunity to participate in various fourth industrial revolution projects, search for solutions along with a research team, test technologies, prepare proposals, present them to business representatives and get to grips with the latest trends of the field as well as make valuable contacts.

“The knowledge and experience that I gained there unequivocally developed my competence in managing R&D projects and allowed me to apply it in practice in my work back in Lithuania,” maintains Kozlovas, who currently works at Lietuvos Energija as innovation coordinator, “The fourth industrial revolution isn’t just developing and applying smart technology-based solutions. It has turned established business models on their heads and is reshaping the fundamental components of value.”

A World of Options

MITA’s exchange programme MITAP II has already given Lithuanian scientists the opportunity to study from their peers in European universities and research centres such as the Marin Drăcea National Institute for Research and Development in Forestry in Romania, the University of Debrecen in Hungary, the University of Lund in Sweden, the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering, The University of Leipzig and the University of Veterinary Medicine in Germany, the Cell Factory in Belgium, Helsinki University in Finland, the UK-based companies Mo-Sys Engineering Ltd and AbBaltis Ltd, the National University of Ireland in Galway, the polytechnic universities of Bologna and Milan in Italy and the European Space Agency in the Netherlands.

Scientists from LSMU and KTU were most active in seeking a position in the exchange programme. There were also many active participants from other institutions, including the Aleksandras Stulginskis University, Vilnius University, Vytautas Magnus University, the Lithuanian Research Centre for Agriculture and Forestry, Vilnius Gediminas Technical University, Mykolas Romeris University and the National Cancer Institute.

Most Lithuanian researchers chose positions in the United Kingdom or Germany, while some chose positions in Poland, Hungary and Italy.

Five more exchange positions have already been arranged for in Finland: at the Lappeenranta University of Technology, which is oriented at business development and green industry, the University of Eastern Finland, the Karelia University of Applied Sciences, the Finnish Science Park and Josel Ltd, a Finnish regional development company.

Arrangements are also currently being made for exchange positions in prestigious UK-based R&D centres such as London South Bank University, the Imperial College of London and the technology commercialisation and investment company Imperial Innovations.

The next wave of internships will also go beyond the European Union, as this month saw the approval of the possibility to organise MITAP II exchanges to non-EU countries.

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