Finalist of the category:
Outstanding Scientist in Slovakia

Igor Lacík

Polymer chemistry

We are driven by a continuous search for the answer to the question, “Why?”

Ing. Igor Lacík, DrSc. has had his hand in a wide spectrum of fields. At the Polymer Institute of the Slovak Academy of Sciences, he and his team manage to keep finding new uses for polymer materials in the treatment of diabetes. Besides helping patients, scientists led by Igor Lacík also focus on the synthesis of a special group of water-soluble polymers. This area had been unknown to the world until a team of Slovak scientists recently started researching it.

“The polymers we work on serve to encapsulate insulin-producing cells. The polymer scaffolds protect the transplanted pancreatic islets against the immune system and ensure their long-term survival. After transplantation, the islets within the diabetic patient produce insulin like a healthy pancreas would,” Igor Lacík explains. We can say that this difficult approach is about searching for balance. On the one hand, scientists expect the scaffolded islets to correctly interpret the glucose levels and produce the required amount of insulin. On the other hand, the islets try to unblock themselves from the organism’s immune system. In the future, this type of treatment may represent a revolutionary change in the lives of diabetic patients for whom the current options to control sugar levels have failed, but also in the lives of high-risk patients, such as children and pregnant women.

For the system to work, Igor Lacík and his team build sophisticated solutions and use modern analytical methods that have already secured them several prestigious grants from the USA. “We co-operate with companies, academic institutions and hospitals and I am very happy that my team, from students to scientists, succeeds in being a part of a worldwide network of experts in the field,” Igor Lacík remarks.

Science that helps human health is noble. Igor Lacík’s team at the Polymer Institute of the Slovak Academy of Sciences focuses on other topics besides biomedicine. Water-soluble polymers are used in various useful inventions that are parts of our lives, such as water-treating flocculants, shampoo and toothpaste thickeners, detergents, and concrete additives. “These have been made for decades now in large volumes, but until we approached the topic, the basis of their synthesis had been unknown. I had initiated the topic and then, together with important world-class institutions, after 20 years we provided a detailed description of these complex polymerisation systems. Nowadays, academic and scientific institutions around the world make use of our findings and credit us for them,” he says.

Meeting people that have formed his views has been key to Igor Lacík’s career in science. These range from his high school chemistry teacher to legends of science he has met during his stays abroad in Australia, the USA, Germany and France. After six years abroad, he returned to Slovakia and found his team, which is driven by curiosity, as he himself is. “I have a grandson now that keeps asking me, ‘Why?’ I think we are the same. We also search for answers that only yield more questions. That’s the continuous process that drives us forward,” Igor Lacík says.

When he’s not working, he likes to ride his bicycle, spend time with his family, and visit nature with his dogs. He also tries to relax by practicing yoga.