Finalist of the category: Exceptional young scientist in Slovakia under the age of 35

Tomáš Bertók

Use of glycans in diagnostics

„You can only fully understand a scientific problem if you look at it from all angles and look for connections.“

Prostate biopsy is the only and a very inconvenient method for determining the presence of cancer. However, most of these examinations end in a negative way. The scientist Ing. Tomáš Bertók, PhD., From the Institute of Chemistry at the Slovak Academy of Sciences, is working on a solution that would save patients from undergoing this test unnecessarily. Together with the fellow-scientist Ing. Ján Tkáč, DrSc., he founded the start-up Glycanostics, in which they use glycans, i.e. polysaccharides, in the diagnosis of cancer.

"Our method should help doctors determine more precisely whether or not to start treatment of early-stage patients. Some types of treatment significantly reduce the patient's quality of life, such as the biopsy, which requires tissue removal. In addition, statistically, 70 to 75% of them end up in a negative way, "explains Tomáš Bertók. His team’s solution is the "liquid biopsy" that requires sampling of blood. It will not only detect the disease, but also find out what stage the patient is at, without the need to remove tissue. This method could also be used to monitor the effectiveness of therapy already in use.

It was important for Tomáš Bertók's team to figure out how to place this product on the market. Leaders in oncology and urology from the Czech Republic, Austria and Denmark helped them with it. "We can already see the light at the end of the tunnel. We’ve convinced several diagnostic companies that it makes sense and we’ve started working with them to develop a prototype. We already know what it should look like and how it should work.” He is currently researching liquid biopsies and also a whole new area - exosomes, which are biological nanoparticles that are produced by all the cells in our body.

Tomáš Bertók studied at the Faculty of Chemical and Food Technology at the Slovak University of Technology in Bratislava. He says that he chose his future focus already in high school. "I was very keen on looking for connections. A chemistry or biology lesson is not what it takes for you to fully grasp something. You must look for deeper connections between objects. And it is nanotechnologies and biotechnologies that connect several areas, which I’m fascinated by.”

According to him, scientists need someone to help them turn their knowledge into patents and real technologies. "It is sad that many interesting projects never get to be used in practice. The main problem is that scientists do not know how to do it - companies will not tell us what criteria we have to meet or which certificates we have to get. The state should therefore give scientists more support in this regard, giving them someone who can explain how to really kick off a project."

Tomáš Bertók won the Danubius Young Scientist Award 2016 from the Austrian Ministry of Science, Research and Economy, and Forbes magazine named him the greatest talent in science and research in the ‘’30 under 30’’ ranking. In the past, he did ballroom dancing. Today he spends most of his free time in the nature with his family, and he likes to draw and read.