- Nadia, you are applying for a patent. When did this option first cross your mind? In your opinion what were the mayor challenges during the application process and how did you tackle them?
That’s a great question! Thinking back to my first months as a PhD student, I could hardly imagine getting to this stage. I vividly remember myself trying to explain the project concept to my grandpa, an awesome guy and an honored inventor in the field of electric engineering. He was very excited (frankly speaking, as in many other discussions – from soccer to politics) and asked me at some point: “What do you think about the practical application of this research? Can it result in an invention one day?” The truth is, when working on the fundamental scientific questions, you usually do not expect your findings to be applied “right here and now”. However, by the third year of the project development it became clear that the discovered novel RNA elements widely used by bacteria to efficiently tune the first step of gene expression (transcription), might be also be utilized for the needs of the biotech sector. And so we’ve started the process of patent application - thanks to the enormous support of my supervisor, Prof. Renee Schroeder, and Dr. Ingrid Kelly from the University of Vienna Technology Transfer Office. The whole thing is such a great experience! We’ve been working on this patent application together with a highly professional team of attorneys and lawyers, who are taking care of huge paper work and all the legal aspects. It was a bit challenging for me to switch from the academia style of manuscript writing to describing our invention in the specific patent terminology, but one just needs to get used to it.
- As regards to another project, you are in a cooperation with a Campus Startup Company. Can you tell us a little bit about this project and how/why you established this cooperation?
That was an unexpected, but very nice outcome of the side project also started during my PhD studies. For the last years I’ve been working with Escherichia coli, a relatively well-studied model bacterium. Dealing with everyday life needs, facing new challenges and stress situations require high regulatory flexibility from all living organisms. Through the years of evolution, bacteria have become true professionals in fast adaptation to their environment at multiple levels. So, one day I was basically scrolling throw the high-throughput sequencing data on my main project when I noticed an interesting trend for a group of E. coli genes that change their expression profile in response to particular metabolites. It was a clear hint for the presence of a not-yet-described additional regulatory pathway. We experimentally proved our hypothesis and suggested a way to affect the expression of the mentioned genes. And that would have been it if we would not have come across the translational medicine paper devoted to acne disease. There are several factors contributing to the development of this skin condition. One of them is skin microbiota. Members of Propionibacterium acnes family play a significant role in acne progression. Even though P. acnes is quite distant from our model bacterium, we thought that the way of particular gene regulation we found in E. coli could also work for the skin microbiome. We’ve approached Ingrid from the Technology Transfer Office with this idea and actually she connected us with the guys from ORIGIMM, a young biotech company aimed for developing breakthrough therapies for prevention and treatment of acne vulgaris. That was a jackpot for us: being particularly interested in the bacterial input in the skin disease progression, we’ve got various strains and materials for our research, and – importantly –have very supportive collaborators with great expertise. The work on this subject is going on and there will be first results soon.
- What would you recommend PhD candidates for their career planning?
Having a plan for your next career steps is essential, but really try to make it flexible. In general, it is very important to be passionate about the things you are doing. Expand your professional network, think out of the box and get inspired from people around you. Never stop learning and don’t be afraid of new challenges.
Nadia Sedlyarova studied at the Lomonosov Moscow State University, Russia and the Leiden University in the Netherlands. Then she moved to Austria and worked as a PhD candidate in the group of Renée Schroeder at the MFPL. After study visits at the NYU School of Medicine in New York, she received her PhD degree with distinction in 2015.