Prof. Bożena Kamińska-Kaczmarek – FNP Prize Laureate 2021
Professor Bożena Kamińska-Kaczmarek from the Nencki Institute of Experimental Biology in Warsaw has received the 2021 FNP Prize in life and earth sciences for the discovery of mechanisms that cause malignant gliomas to reprogram immune cells in such a way that they promote the development of these brain tumors.
Bożena Kamińska was born in 1961 in Bielsk Podlaski. She graduated from the Faculty of Biology at the University of Warsaw in 1985, after which she began her Ph.D. in biochemistry at the Nencki Institute of Experimental Biology. She defended her doctoral dissertation in 1991. In 1997, she received habilitation at the same institution. She became a full professor of biological sciences in 2003.
Professor Kamińska-Kaczmarek specializes in molecular biology and neurobiology. She currently works at the Nencki Institute of Experimental Biology of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw. She is the Head of the new Laboratory of Molecular Neurobiology in the Neurobiology Center of the Nencki Institute, Director of the Molecular Medicine Laboratory at the Medical University of Warsaw, and a corresponding member of the Polish Academy of Sciences.
She worked in many international research centers. She did postdoctoral training at McGill University in Canada, cooperated with the American Brain Research Institute UCLA, and was a visiting professor (Nanshan Scholar) at Guangzhou Medical University.
In her career, Kamińska-Kaczmarek has pursued more than 44 domestic and international research grants. Among them were grants from Poland’s National Science Centre (Maestro, Harmonia, Symfonia, OPUS), the National Center for Research and Development (Strategmed 1, 2, 3), and the Foundation for Polish Science (Master, Team-Tech Core Facility). International grants included the NATO grant, European Union subsidies in two Framework Programs, and ERANET grants. She promoted 27 doctorates, three habilitations, and 10 Master’s theses.
Her achievements include 134 scientific publications (e.g. in Nature Communications and Cell) and 10 chapters in scientific books, reaching over 6000 citations and the Hirsch index of 42.
For her scientific work, she has been honored with numerous awards, among others, the Prime Minister’s Award for Outstanding Habilitation, the Silver Cross of Merit, the Golden Cross of Merit, the Knight’s Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta, the Officer’s Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta, the Medal of the Commission of National Education.
Professor Bożena Kamińska-Kaczmarek is a pioneer of research on the impact of brain tumors on the local immune system. She has received the 2021 FNP Prize for the discovery of mechanisms by which immune cells – both those residing in the brain (microglia) and migrating from the blood – instead of destroying glioma (brain tumor), support its development.
Malignant glioma is the most common brain tumor that, due to its rapid spread in the brain, is difficult to remove surgically and very resistant to standard therapy, especially in older patients.
On the other hand, microglia are immune cells constantly present in the central nervous system that support its normal functions and participate in processes of protection against pathogens, initiating the body’s immune response. The involvement of microglia in supporting glioma development was previously unknown.
Kamińska-Kaczmarek focuses on the diversity of brain tumors’ environment and the influence of microglia and other immune cells (macrophages) accumulating in the tumor on its progression. This is a novel approach, as previously scientists commonly believed that microglia accumulate in the tumor to fight the cancer.
Her work revealed the tumor produces signals that alter the properties of microglia and cause these cells to promote tumor growth instead of fighting cancer, also blocking the anti-tumor response. This discovery has opened a new avenue in the field of brain tumor research, and many laboratories around the world have begun working on the biology of microglia in brain tumors and brain metastases.
Professor Kamińska-Kaczmarek described in detail the process of microglia activation by glioma cells. It turns out that while pathogens trigger an inflammatory response that mobilizes the immune system, this does not happen in the case of glioma. Glioma reprograms microglia activity and alters immune cell function so that a different set of genes and factors involved in the migration and differentiation of immune cells are activated in such a way that the immune system begins to malfunction.
Subsequent studies led by Kamińska-Kaczmarek showed that one of the tasks of altered microglia in glioma is to secrete enzymes that – by cutting the extracellular matrix – facilitate the migration of tumor cells. This is why the tumor keeps spreading and is hardly operable. Moreover, her studies revealed that other cells also accumulate inside the tumor: macrophages formed from monocytes from the peripheral blood. They block the normal immune response as well.
The achievements of Professor Bożena Kamińska-Kaczmarek led to the development of new therapies in the treatment of glioma and may give rise to further ones. By targeting different populations of macrophages, we will be able in the future to inhibit tumor growth or appropriately mobilize the patient’s immune system to fight the cancer. To this end, Kamińska-Kaczmarek has established a specialized platform to improve diagnostics and personalized therapy in neurooncology, among other solutions.
Discoveries by Professor Bożena Kamińska-Kaczmarek are important not only in the treatment of gliomas because microglia malfunction also appears in Alzheimer’s disease. Thus, the findings may initiate similar research on various neurological and neurodegenerative disorders.
Photo: prof. Bożena Kamińska-Kaczmarek_fot. OneHDBack