Amgen Scholars Program: Nikola Doležalová
Host Institution: University of Cambridge, Cambridge, England
Undergraduate Institution: Charles University in Prague
Hometown: Tečovice, Czech Republic
Major: Molecular biology and biochemistry
At a young age, Nikola Doležalová participated in girl scouting in the Czech Republic, which seeded in her a love for the natural world. She and other girls would meet weekly to explore one of the forests near her small village of Tečovice or to clean up rivers, and in the process, they learned to identify many indigenous plants and animals.
As early as primary school, Nikola was drawn to chemistry and biology, but it wasn’t until secondary school—when she took a genetics course—that her love for biology really took off. Unraveling the mysteries of living things through their DNA was a new and fascinating challenge to her.
As an undergraduate at Charles University in Prague, Nikola was eager to take her interests to the lab to try independent, hands-on scientific research. The 2014 Amgen Scholars Program at the University of Cambridge “was really a perfect opportunity for a person like me from the Czech Republic to get experience in the lab, because I have limited opportunities here,” she says.
Nikola’s project in the lab of Kourosh Saeb-Parsy had the ultimate and ambitious goal of expanding available sources of hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) because HSCs can be coaxed into forming blood cells for the treatment of leukemia and because the increasing numbers of HSC transplantations in recent years have created a shortage of cells.
One aspect of Nikola’s project aimed to determine whether HSCs from deceased organ donors could potentially serve as sources. Nikola was also pursuing the development of a safer and more efficient protocol for preserving the cells via freezing, because the standard methods are toxic to HSCs and can cause side effects in patients.
Nikola made good progress on both components of her project, but the biggest lesson she learned as an Amgen Scholar was that it takes a long time to do good science. “You spend most of the time troubleshooting, because it doesn’t work how you expected. That’s what no one tells you when you’re going into science,” she says, adding that she’s glad to know that now. Nikola’s realization has only heightened her enthusiasm for science. In fact, she plans to continue her work on improving preservation methods for cells—including human hematopoietic stem cells—as a PhD student in fall 2015 in Cambridge’s Department of Surgery. Although she’s still deciding on her career path, she hopes to run her own lab in academia, focusing on immunology or stem cells.
“The Amgen Scholars Program is not just an excellent opportunity to pursue summer research,” Nikola says. “The network of researchers and colleagues I created through the Program, as well as the experience I gained in Cambridge, helped me obtain a highly coveted spot in a PhD program.”
To learn more, please visit the Amgen Scholars Program 2014 Annual Report.
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