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Combining an academic career with business

The constant need to catch up on business knowledge and develop new skills is not easy. However, while a career in science and business is a challenging path, it is extremely rewarding.

Developing an innovative technique

A specialist at the Institute of Physical Chemistry of the Polish Academy of Sciences and a leader in the commercialization of Cell-IN, Ms. Aneta Karpińska combines scientific work with business.

In her PhD research, she focuses on studying how anticancer drug molecules penetrate into living cells. She explains that this process, called internalization, can be desirable or undesirable. It depends on the location of the drug’s target.

“For example, if a drug is designed to bind to a protein present inside a cell, then the penetration of that drug will be desirable. But there are also drugs whose targets are receptors present outside the cell. In this case, internalization will be undesirable, because the drug should stay outside the cell,” specifies Ms. Aneta.

Determining the internalization of a drug is important because the therapeutic potential of a molecule can already be determined at the laboratory testing stage. This translates into saving time and money spent on clinical trials.

The team, of which Ms. Aneta is a part, has developed an innovative method for applying the technique of fluorescence correlation spectroscopy directly to living cells using a nano viscosity model. At the single-molecule level, the team is able to determine whether a drug enters a cell, and if so, refine how much of the drug is internalized. The team is also studying the mechanism of drug transport and the intracellular interactions it undergoes.

In addition, the team has also developed a reagent that allows different types of substances to enter the cell. As Ms. Aneta explains, drugs, by definition, should work on their own. However, most biomedical, biological or biophysical research assumes the introduction of a given compound into a cell. Which is not so simple.

“If we imagine a cell of the human body as a sphere, each such sphere is surrounded by a cell membrane. This membrane is a shield to protect our cell from the external environment. Therefore, crossing this shield and introducing something into the cell is not easy,” says Ms. Aneta.

She adds that many years of research in the laboratory have allowed the development of a formulation – a polymeric one that quickly, simply and relatively cheaply allows the introduction of various substances into cells. The reagent developed, is universal in terms of the substance introduced into the cell. An additional advantage is that it does not require specialized equipment and does not kill the cell being tested.

Challenges on the business-science path

As the leader of the Cell-IN initiative, Ms. Aneta Karpińska is also active in commercialization. As a young scientist, she was given the opportunity to take on a new position. Ms. Aneta says she knew at the time that if she hadn’t decided on this challenge, she would have later regretted the missed opportunity. With her new role, she solidified that combining science and business was the path exactly for her.

After all, she considered finance and accounting before choosing biotechnology as her major.

“This is a combination that has been on my mind for many years. I see now that it can be combined,” says Ms. Aneta.

The biggest challenge in combining science and business is catching up with marketing knowledge. She stresses that the Cell-IN team is made up of scientists, with no knowledge of management or running a business. Learning how to develop a product, how to decide in which direction to go to gain customers and find a niche, is not easy.

“That’s why I so often participate in programs dedicated to young scientists to expand leadership skills,” says Ms. Aneta. Through them she develops various competencies and learns how to manage a team.

One of the programs she has participated in is Shesnnovation, a program designed

for women who want to establish their first startup. She also participated in The Excellerator (Global Biotech Revolution), an international program that selected 100 people from around the world. They had an opportunity to expand their business knowledge, and the whole thing ended with a forum in Cambridge. During the meeting, participants met representatives of major biotech and pharmaceutical companies.

Currently, Ms. Aneta is participating in the Female Founders Fundraising Academy, a program organized by Huge Thing, focused on fundraising by startups.

“Getting the word out that these types of programs exist is not so easy and obvious,” she notes. And participating in them provides not only the opportunity to expand one’s competencies, but also the opportunity to make new contacts.

Voluntary internships

An important part of Ms. Aneta’s career development was also her decision to take part in many voluntary student internships. During her internships, she tried to sample different areas of biotechnology, which she notes are many.

“There are many areas of science within biotechnology: microbiology, virology, cosmetics, drugs, clinical trials, etc. I wanted to see what I liked best.”

She did her internship in a cosmetics laboratory, and also worked in the area of microbiology and bacterial viruses. Her dream was to try working on cancer cells. This came to fruition in her doctorate, in Professor Hołsyta’s team. 

Her internships gave her an understanding on what she wants to do in her professional future. What’s more, the Cell-IN product she developed with her team ensures that she can combine her scientific and business work. Ms. Aneta is particularly pleased that the team managed to find solutions with application potential, which later another scientist can use in their experiments and improve their work.

Research that has a real impact

Ms. Aneta says it is also important to her that through her research, she can generate 

results that later, indirectly, can affect the health and even the lives of others. Her contribution to the fight against cancer, and the importance of research at the laboratory stage, drive her to continue her work in science. She notes that research has an impact on society and can make the results obtained indirectly influence, for example, the decision to start clinical trials.

“I believe that what we do matters. We contribute, indirectly, to improving the quality of life and health of society as a whole,” says Ms. Aneta.

A word of advice

For students who are thinking about a PhD, Ms. Aneta has one piece of advice – “if you still have time for it, do a lot of internships, not just the mandatory ones. This will make it easier later to decide whether scientific work suits you, and if so, what area of science you would like to focus on. It’s worth doing this before starting a PhD.”

In addition to internships, she also encourages people to seek information about various development programs.

“It’s good to have someone who will let us know that such a program exists and encourage us to apply,” she says. 

She herself received information about the Shesnnovation program from her thesis supervisor. Later, emails about similar programs came on their own. Taking part in the first program opens the door to the next, she notes.

And scholarships such as START, organized by the Foundation for Polish Science, offer great opportunities for young scientists. This is a lifetime achievement scholarship, in which Ms. Aneta was awarded with distinction. In addition to the funding to stay in science, it also provides further opportunities for development.

She says that for herself, receiving a scholarship seemed unattainable. Despite this, she entered the competition.

“So let’s believe in ourselves and try to publish as high as possible. And let’s just apply. Because if we don’t apply we definitely won’t be awarded.”

Ms. Aneta was recognized for her research and combining academic work with CELL-IN commercialization. The jury appreciated her young age and her involvement in various ventures with application potential.

At the end of June, Ms. Aneta will travel to the 73rd Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting. During this prestigious conference of scientists with Nobel laureates, she will attend various meetings and lectures. She herself is looking forward to the opportunity to exchange knowledge and experience and talk with the world’s most prominent scientists. She is looking forward to the opportunity to ask them how their career paths went in the context of having to decide on their own professional future.

Cover photography: Pixabay

Barbara Niemczyk
I graduated from a bachelor's degree in applied linguistics and a master's degree in journalism. I have done numerous internships and fellowships in the past years, including a translation traineeship at one of the EU Institutions and a journalistic fellowship at Deutsche Welle. I have a big passion for telling stories, talking with people and exchanging ideas. I am proactive and have excellent writing skills and ease at making new connections. I like to spend my free time sailing, hiking and practicing Ashtanga Yoga.
Written by:

Barbara Niemczyk

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