Roads to Life

Once again, we have a pleasure to present a series of lectures and meetings with scientists and researchers. At the end of 2015, physicians and mathematicians led us through the Roads to Reality. Starting on 11 January 2017, we would like to invite you to an intellectual journey leading to Life. We will be guided by biologists and medicine specialists, who will show us how their fields of science uncover and change the world.

Genes and medicine, stem cells, cancer treatment, spinal cord regeneration — these are some of the topics that our guests will discuss while sharing with us the results of their studies and latest scientific achievements. Lectures can be further debated in the science café, a place of informal encounters and direct discussions.

We would like to emphasise that this year’s cycle “Roads to Life” — just like the previous one — is an original idea and a creation of the scientist whom we admire. The “Journey plan” was prepared by a physician, a geneticist and a member of the Copernicus Science Centre Programme Board, professor Magdalena Fikus. It is an honour for us to co-create this event with such a remarkable person. Together with the Copernicus team, we have agreed on the final list of invited guests and created a story which binds all their lectures. Science shapes our future but also solves the problems of today.

Come and listen to those who will say how it does so…

All lectures are conducted in Polish

Each lecture will be preceded by news from the world of science – “What’s new in the microworld” – presented by Prof. Magdalena Fikus
Moderators: Wiktor Gajewski, Marcin Zaród


Prof. Magdalena Fikus, Ph.D. – biochemist by education, biophysicist and geneticist by profession. She is keen on promoting science during festivals and picnics, at science cafés, children and senior universities, by writing reviews, articles, taking part in conferences, programme boards, debates, appearing in media, etc. President of the Science Promotion Council of the Polish Academy of Sciences, and — despite her advanced retirement age — part-time employee of her host Institute of Biochemistry and Biophysics at the same institution.

Wiktor Gajewski – Director of Scientific and Artistic Events in the Copernicus Science Centre. Ha has worked in the CSC since 2007, when he started as an explainer of the „Experiment Yourself!” mobile exhibition. Co-author of the GENesis project – a series of events facilitating discussions on modern biotechnology. He led the project „Uzdrowisko Warszawa” (Warsaw SPA) intended for the people of science, art and business, related to designing products and services that respond to social needs. His passion is creating and testing tools for establishing new, positive relations between scientists and non-scientists.

Marcin Zaród – physicist, science promotor and technical sociologist. Specialist in the CSC Department of Scientific and Artistic Events. Among many others, he co-created the 2016 Science Picnic, the „Lates” 18+ series and lectures for the Roads to Reality. As a sociologist, he studies relations between science and society, e.g. within the scope of scientific communication and social conditions of knowledge creation processes. Director of NCN research scholarship. He cooperated with PBIS Stocznia, the Art Museum in Łódź, Google, and many others.

11 January

Blood Wiesław W. Jędrzejczak 
Stem cells Leonora Bużańska


When we hear the word “blood”, we usually think only about the peripheral blood – red liquid flowing through our vessels consisting of blood cells and plasma. In reality, this term encompasses the whole tissue, including the element which produces blood cells, i.e. bone marrow (in adults, it is found in flat bones). Interestingly, bone marrow is made up of individual cells called progenitor cells. In an ideal environment, one such cell is enough to produce the whole bone marrow and sustain its continuous work. This requires an adult person to produce approx. 500 million cells per day. At the same time, that is also the very amount of blood cells that are used up every day. Blood has three main functions in the body: transportation, clotting and immunological. The immunological function is especially important as we live in the world where microorganisms surround us and regard us as their food. Therefore, we will survive as long as we can protect ourselves from them. The first line of defence are neutrophils, found in blood, and macrophages, found in monocytes. The latter — various types of lymphocytes and their products — are called antibodies. Blood brings our body together and defends its integrity. It is invaluable to us.

Prof. Wiesław Jędrzejczak – doctor, Head of the Faculty and Clinic of Haematology, Oncology and Internal Diseases at the Warsaw Medical University. In his career as researcher and clinicist, he has worked in the area of haematology, transplantation and nuclear medicine. A pioneer in the field of bone marrow transplant.


Stem cells are indispensable for the body development. In adults, they are responsible for the renewal and regeneration of tissues. Are all “stem cells” de facto stem cells? Why are they the hope of today’s medicine and, at the same time, why do they cause so much fear? Progress in cell bioengineering and biotechnology allows us to produce ethically non-controversial stem cells typical for particular tissues which are already being used in science and medicine. A challenge for the modern regenerative medicine is the use of “tailor-made” cells that match the patient’s immunological system and fulfil the safety and therapeutic effectiveness criteria. Such “personalised” cells, called iPS (induced pluripotent stem cells), have already been used in many laboratories worldwide to create models of human diseases, which are already commonly used in toxicology, pharmacology and clinical diagnostics. However, the idea of iPS being used as a carrier for personalised and commonly accessible therapy is still quite remote.

Prof. Leonora Bużańska – medical biologist, Head of the Stem Cell Bioengineering Laboratory at the Mossakowski Medical Research Centre (Polish Academy of Sciences). She investigates molecular and epigenetic processes related to reprogramming and diversifying stem cells in a more neural direction. She examines the processes of developmental neurotoxicity with the use of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS). She works on creating therapeutically competent stem cells and the in-vitro culture in biomimetic conditions – which resemble the body’s natural environment.

18 January

Vaccines Paweł Grzesiowski 
Antibiotics Marek Gniadkowski


With the progress of knowledge and medical technology, vaccines are and will be a commonly used method for the prevention and treatment of communicable and non-communicable diseases. A failing immune system can lead to many chronic diseases, including autoimmune diseases and cancer. Immunomodulation by vaccines can cause a targeted response against microorganisms, autoantibodies or antigens of cancer cells. 
Experience gained throughout over 60 years of vaccinating against communicable diseases worldwide allowed for confirming their unprecedented efficacy and safety, as well as gaining information on potential and real adverse effects. In order to maintain a high level of approval for vaccinations in societies, we need to educate people extensively so that we don’t see the return of communicable diseases, having already been deemed under control thanks to preventive vaccination.

Dr Paweł Grzesiowski – doctor, paediatrician, immunologist and consultant in the field of prevention of infections, founder and president of the Foundation for the Infection Prevention Institute, director of the Centre of Preventive Medicine and Rehabilitation in Warsaw. He conducts research and makes implementations in the field of hospital infections, immunology of preventive vaccination and the impact of intestinal microbiota on the human body.


The fast growth of bacteria resistance to antibiotics results in an increase of the number of almost incurable infections. A report prepared by the British government in 2016 estimates that by 2050 drug resistance may cause 10 million deaths each year. The report warns that medicine could go back to the “dark ages.”

Prof. Marek Gniadkowski – molecular biologist and a researcher in the National Medicines Institute. Head of the Division of Molecular Microbiology. He conducts research on resistance to antibiotics, clonal population structures and evolution of pathogenic bacteria, with a specific focus on gram-negative microorganisms.

25 January

Cancer – genesis Janusz Siedlecki 
Cancer – treatment Cezary Szczylik


Cancer is the result of deviations in the genetic material. Modifications take place in many genes, whereas incorrect protein products coded by damaged genes distort many processes, which in turn leads to the loss of cell homeostasis. We need to be aware that the phenomenon commonly referred to as cancer is, in fact, a group of approx. 250 different disease entities and almost each such entity has its own scheme of molecular changes, leading from the correct phenotype to a cancerogenic one. Those changes have a direct impact on the course of crucial cell processes such as growth, division, differentiation and death. The transformation process (also called carcinogenesis) is characterised by a long latent period. A further development of cancer is the result of vascularisation and the ability to travel to other parts of the human body. The period of incubation of the disease lasts from 10 to even 30 years, and only then is the disease detectable with the technical means we have at our disposal today. Too late a detection of the disease lowers the chances for its successful treatment and causes the need for a complicated and expensive therapy.

Prof. Janusz Siedlecki – chemist by education. Works in the Maria Skłodowska Curie Memorial Cancer Centre and the Institute of Oncology as the Head of the Division of Molecular and Translational Oncology. He conducts research on molecular pathogenesis on cancer, focusing on melanoma, sarcomas of soft tissues, breast cancer and kidney cancer. He has studied mechanisms and the biological role of the DNA polymerases. Prof. Siedlecki is also a specialist in molecular diagnostics of cancers.


The history of cancer research is strictly connected with diligence of clinical observations. Monitoring the clinical course, analysing the morbidity among family members of patients (including in many past generations) and assessing the disease’s dynamics are helpful in noticing some common traits of the disease and further — in searching for biological and molecular causes of cancer. Clinical research on hereditary cancers has played a special role in the history of cancer research. One such hereditary condition is the Von Hippel-Lindau syndrome. In affected patients, we observe a development of different tissue cancers, and above all — kidney. In 1979, an analysis of chromosomal abnormality allowed for establishing their cause. Those observations prompted others to look for similar changes in patients with sporadic kidney cancers. These analyses confirmed that the cause of the kidney cancer development in almost 90% of patients were similar abnormalities within a particular chromosome. From then on, it went fast and already in 1993 scientists located a gene called von Hippel-Lindau (VHL), from the names of the scientists who discovered it. The next step, and a consequence, was looking for factors that could restrain the wrong gene’s activity, which led to the discovery of new generation drugs, the so-called particulate kinase inhibitors. They were first successfully applied in 2007, causing an extended life period in patients suffering from the metastasized (spread) form of this cancer. It is worth noting that the VHL gene and the disorder of its operation are the cause of neoangiogenesis, i.e. the development of blood vessels into a tumour. Taking anti-VHL drugs is only an element of the anticancer treatment. Already today, thanks to similar research, we use drugs that revitalise the activity of the immune system, which attack the unrestrained replication of cancer cells. Currently ongoing international research project on the analysis of the cancer genome will certainly accelerate the development of efficient treatment of cancers.

Prof. Cezary Szczylik – oncologist and haematologist. Head of the Clinic of Oncology in the Military Medical Institute. A pioneer in the field of bone marrow transplant. He explores the possibilities of treating metastatic tumours in the treatment of liver cancer and immunotherapy mechanisms in kidney cancer.

1 February

Homo Geneticus Paweł Golik 
Parkinson, Alzheimer – genes and diseases Andrzej Friedman


Among genetic diseases in humans, we are most knowledgeable about those which are caused by defects of individual genes. We are able to identify and diagnose them better and better. However, these are rare diseases and the biggest challenge are still multifactorial genetic traits that depend on the impact of many different genes and environment. Understanding them is much harder than in the case of monogenic traits, which can be deciphered according to the rules of Mendel’s genetics. Meanwhile, a vast majority of the most common diseases that affect as, as well as a vast majority of traits proving that we are all different, is inherited exactly in the way that cannot be researched by simple analyses. How to decide whether a given phenomenon is caused by genes or environment? Can we predict appearance, personality, talents and susceptibility to various diseases based on a genetic analysis? What should we keep in mind when reading about new genetic discoveries?

Prof. Paweł Golik – he graduated from the Department of Chemistry of the Warsaw University, where he currently works as the team leader in the Institute of Genetics and Biotechnology. He currently deals with molecular and evolutionary biology, focusing on the evolution of gene expressions in mitochondria. He participated in the study of human evolution and created yeast models of human mitochondrial diseases.


Neurodegeneration diseases, such as the Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s diseases, continue to be an increasing problem of ageing societies. Discovering their formation mechanisms can lead to more efficient treatment. Genetics plays an important role in understanding the mechanisms that lead to the death of neurons. In inherited neurodegenerative diseases, scientists have discovered mutations that cause dying of neurons. Understanding what causes the mutations will allow us to understand what is happening in the brain of an ill patient.

Prof. Andrzej Friedman –neurologist and researcher of the Parkinson’s disease. Professor in the Clinic of Neurology of the Warsaw Medical University. He has studied the influence of genes and hormones on the course of the Parkinson’s disease, and has led experimental therapies.

4 February

Meeting with scientists in our café Takao Ishikawa
Find out more about the meetings »

8 February

Spinal cord – regeneration Ryszard Międzybrodzki, Wojciech Fortuna


We are witnessing an enormous progress in the field of transplantation and regenerative medicine. Thanks to e.g. processes of repair of nerve tissues in the peripheral nervous system, we are able not only to save amputated limbs but even perform transplants from deceased donors.
Unfortunately, in the central nervous system (i.e. brain and spinal cord), there are strong barriers that disable a spontaneous regrowth of damaged axons, which, e.g. in the case of severe injuries of the spinal cord, may result in the paralysis of all limbs. However, nature has left us one single exception — in mammals, it allows self-renewal of olfactory receptor neurons and their regeneration thanks to the presence (in the olfactory glia) of cells which form a sheath around the bundles of axons of these neurons and accompany them both in the peripheral olfactory system and in the central olfactory system, i.e. the olfactory bulb. This way, it has created a unique tool which in the future may be used in treatments of damages to the central nervous system. Understanding the biological mechanisms of these cells allowed us to develop skills for experimental treatment of the total damage of the spinal cord.

Dr Ryszard Międzybrodzki – doctor and researcher. He works in the Institute of Immunology and Experimental Therapy of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Wrocław. His research focuses on application of bacteria viruses (bacteriophages) in combating infections caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Since 2013, he has also been a lecturer in the Department of Clinical Immunology of the Institute of Transplantation at Warsaw Medical University. Since 2003, he has cooperated with the Clinic of Neurology of the Wroclaw Medical University. He is also a member of the team that in 2012 transplanted autologous olfactory glial cells in patient with a cut spinal cord.


A joint effort of a team of doctors and scientists has resulted in transplantation of olfactory glial cells in patients paralysed after a spinal cord injury. First surgeries proved that the collection and transplant of isolated glial cells from the nasal olfactory epithelium are safe. Moreover, after surgeries, patients showed symptoms indicating a moderate improvement of their neurological condition. Experience gained and promising pre-clinical data resulted in the performance of a pioneer surgery consisting in autologous olfactory glial cells transplantation from the olfactory bulb with a simultaneous implantation of fragments of the peripheral nerve in the injured area of the spinal cord. A 3.5-year post-surgery patient follow-up attests to an increasing neurological improvement, which has significantly improved the patient’s quality of life and reduced the level of their dependence on other people. Collected results — even though so far only regarding one patient — illustrate the regeneration of connections between some of the axons, which in turn results in restored functioning of the previously cut spinal cord.

Dr Wojciech Fortuna – doctor dealing with issues related to neuroregeneration of the spinal cord disorders in people. He works in the Institute of Immunology and Experimental Therapy of the Polish Academy of Sciences and the Clinic of Neurology of the Wroclaw Medical University. He conducts research on practical usage of properties of olfactory glial cells and neuromodulation of a damaged spinal cord. Dr Fortuna is also a member of the team that in 2012 transplanted autologous olfactory glial cells in patient with a cut spinal cord.



11, 18, 25 January
1, 8 February 2017
at 7 p.m.
4 February between 3 p.m. - 6 p.m.


All lectures are conducted in Polish.