What changes do diseases of civilization cause in the body, and can we find a cure for them? This question is one that Mgr. Lucia Balážová, PhD., from the Biomedical Research Center of the Slovak Academy of Sciences, is trying to answer via her research. She examines the molecular mechanisms that control the metabolic activity of adipose tissue and play a role in the pathogenesis of obesity and diabetes.
Lucia Balážová’s research focuses on energy metabolism. This is the transformation of substances that occurs after a person has eaten. The body uses energy from food for various physiological processes – muscle movement, heart activity, digestion, brain activity and thinking. The body processes energy and either uses or stores it for later. In her research, Lucia Balážová focuses on adipose tissue. She is intrigued by it because it is not just a passive organ, as we have long thought, but produces hormones and actively communicates with other parts of the body.
In her study, she also examines how metabolic processes in the body work and what changes arise from diseases of civilization such as obesity and diabetes. She uses molecular biology methods to do this. By researching molecular pathways, she seeks to identify the receptors, hormones and enzymes that would be most suitable for drug design and pharmacotherapy. Lucie Balážová’s research could help to find an effective remedy for obesity and diabetes, which would be able to mitigate metabolic complications of patients in the long term.
As a scientist from the Biomedical Research Center of the Slovak Academy of Sciences, she would also like to help patients suffering from liver diseases in the future. Her scientific dream is to invent a non-invasive diagnostic marker to detect a non-alcoholic fatty liver. At the moment, it is possible to accurately confirm this only by biopsy, i.e. by inserting a needle directly into the organ, which is a very uncomfortable procedure for the patient.
Lucia Balážová did her master's and doctoral degrees in animal physiology at the Faculty of Natural Sciences at Comenius University in Bratislava. During her studies, she was interested in the issue of adipose tissue and decided to explore this area in more detail at the Institute of Experimental Endocrinology of the Slovak Academy of Sciences. After completing her doctoral studies, her steps led her abroad. For six years, she worked as a postdoctoral student at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology ETH in Zürich, which is frequently ranked among the top ten universities in the world.
After working abroad, Lucia decided to return to Slovakia with her acquired knowledge. While abroad, she was sure that a valid hypothesis would suffice for her research, but she admits that she encountered financial and administrative limitations. She claims, however, that Slovak scientists' passion for their profession compensates for those limitations. "The enthusiasm for scientific work is perhaps even greater here than abroad. Every tiny result is a success that people experience so much – they are so enthusiastic that it is contagious. They continue their journey despite all the obstacles."
When she is not working, Lucia Balážová spends time with her family, especially her son. That reminds her every day that she should relax more often. "A child sees the world completely differently from an adult. When I'm with my son, I relax and forget my worries. I feel that time will stop, and I will discover the world with him all over again."