Postcards from the Lab – Dr. Krystyna Cwiklinski

Krystyna Cwiklinski, funded by PARAGONE, is a senior post-doc John Dalton’s lab in Queen’s University Belfast. We discussed her specific work on the PARAGONE project and also wider issues surrounding Science and Society.

Krystyna commenced her scientific career with a primary degree in Biology and French from University of Bangor, North Wales, which included a year in Paris at the Université Pierre et Marie Curie studying the mouse nematode Heligmosomoides polygyrus. During her time in Paris she got bitten by the Parasitology Bug and decided to follow up with an MSc degree in Biology and Control of Parasites and Vectors at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. Her research project during this course was on the filarial nematode Brugia malayi, and she studied yet another nematode, Trichinella, in her PhD at the University of Aberdeen. She was well-equipped, therefore, to move to a post-doc at the University of Liverpool studying anthelmintic resistance in nematodes of horses, before moving in 2014 to her current position. In PARAGONE, her background is valuable in probing the complex molecular interactions between the liver fluke, Fasciola hepatica, and its ruminant hosts, and thus paving the way for development of badly-needed vaccines against this parasite.

Dr. Krystyna Cwiklinski

Dr. Krystyna Cwiklinski

Asked about what she considers are the main benefits of working on an EU-funded H2020 programme, she cites the networking opportunities that come from working with partners across the world, as well as the mentorship of early-career scientists that is considered of prime importance in the Consortium. Krystyna notes that the PARAGONE fluke team includes members in Uruguay, Spain, Ireland and the UK. This geographical dispersion presents opportunities for learning across different labs and different cultures, but also highlights the necessity for rigorous organisation, tight protocols and planning together with collaborators in order to achieve group tasks and deliverables. As she moves onwards and upwards in her career, she believes the opportunities she has been given to play an active part in the administration of the project, including regular reporting, as well as being an integral part of the decision-making process on vaccine trial design and implementation, will be useful additions to her CV. She has represented the liver fluke group at the PARAGONE consortium meetings, providing updates on progress in liver fluke vaccine development. She is enthusiastic about these opportunities, and comments that “Through the PARAGONE network, I have become an established member of the liver fluke community, known for my skills in molecular parasitology, which will support my continued career development”.

As her career develops, Krystyna would like to stay in academia and to become an independent researcher, hopefully still working in parasitology. Having experienced the benefits of working on an EU-funded project, she does worry a little about the uncertainty surrounding Brexit and continued access to UK-based researchers to EU funding, and this, indeed, may affect her future plans.

When asked about gender issues in STEM and in academia, Krystyna says that as a female senior post-doc in a Department that holds a Gold Athena Swan Award *, she is acutely aware of her responsibility to mentor the other members of the team, and acting as a role model promoting gender equality and an inclusive culture for all staff. One way she does this is through active participation in School/Faculty Athena Swan events. Most recently this has included the recent celebrations of International Women’s Day that highlighted exceptional women at the early stages of their career and those that support the school in administration and technical offices, which were identified via nominations. This year, she was nominated for her work on a recent publication. She also mentions that the Faculty of Medicine, Health & Life Sciences at Queen’s actively participated in Post-doc appreciation week, that raises awareness and celebrates the incredible achievements of postdoctoral researchers.

Dr. Krystyna Cwiklinski

Dr. Krystyna Cwiklinski

I asked Krystyna to comment on the bearing PARAGONE and other parasite vaccine projects will have on the the global challenges of our age – i.e. feeding the planet, environmental sustainability, one health. Her determination to be part of the solution to these challenges, and the relevance of her role as a parasitology researcher is clear:

“ With over a third of the world’s population being effected by helminth parasites, as well as the huge economic burden these parasites have on agriculture, the current situation of failing drugs due to resistance requires the development of successful vaccines. Progress has been made throughout the PARAGONE project, increasing our understanding of methods of vaccination, the types of adjuvants we can use and the immune responses to vaccines. In particular our work on the liver fluke, which is a one health issue, can be translated for use in the development of human vaccines in the future. Ultimately, more work is required to drive the development of these vaccines using multi-disciplinary approaches, such as those used during PARAGONE”.

The PARAGONE consortium has benefitted enormously from having an early-career scientist of Krystyna’s calibre contributing to its outputs. Equally, her time working with the consortium has contributed in no small measure to her career development and future scientific advancement. In addition to the direct scientific advances in livestock vaccine development emerging from the EU’s investment, therefore, the emergence of the next generation of scientific leaders, in this case of a promising female early-career scientist, must also be considered as a key output.

*The Athena Swan Charter was established in the UK in 2005 to encourage and recognise commitment to advancing the careers of women in science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine (STEMM) employment in higher education and research. It has now expanded to encompass academics in other disciplines, to professional and support staff and to gender equality more broadly, in the UK and Ireland.