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The CREAtion of the Department of Physical Chemistry of Biological SysTEms

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - CREATE (The CREAtion of the Department of Physical Chemistry of Biological SysTEms)

Reporting period: 2018-10-01 to 2021-03-31

Under the CREATE project, we aimed to acquire for our Institute a reputable researcher (ERA Chair holder), recognisable in the European Research Area (ERA), to establish a new chair (Department of Physical Chemistry of Biological Systems; PCBS). The research field of the ERA Chair holder resulted from the IPC SWOT analysis conducted in collaboration with our stakeholders, including ERC grant laureates. Before the project, IPC had had a solid research record in fundamental and application-oriented research on sensors, new materials for nanotechnology, and the chemical functionalisation of nanomaterials. We had also brought to perfection analytical methods used for researching physical and chemical systems. However, the development capacity of these methods had run out, and the Institute had lacked purpose and inspiration for further research allowing to catch up with the European Research Area. Therefore, based on analysis and discussions with major stakeholders, IPC had decided to refocus on researching biological systems.

To reinforce the new IPC research specialisation, we expected the ERA Chair holder to review our research agenda and select synergetic research groups capable of collaborating with PCBS and reorienting their research into physical chemistry inspired by biology. The project predicted several measures to be taken by the new leader to expand the research excellence of IPC to include this new research agenda.

Implementation of the abovementioned plan required finding a reputable expert in biology and establishing a new department focused on applications of developed techniques in biological systems. Therefore the preliminary action under the CREATE project included recruitment of an outstanding scientist capable of:
- indicating research directions of modern quantitative biology studies within physical chemistry and advising on possible links of physical chemistry and biology,
- enhancing IPC researchers to contribute to the new interdisciplinary research field,
- establishing cooperation with international scientific units on a partner basis.

The CREATE project also aimed to bring essential know-how to IPC and spread excellence through science-science and science-business cooperation.

Under the project, we have achieved all of the abovementioned objectives. Professor Maciej Wojtkowski, an outstanding specialist in biomedical imagining, was selected for the position of the ERA Chair holder. He has successfully established the Department of the Physical Chemistry of Biological Systems. Under this department, we have further extracted three new research groups. IPC has gained a competitive research potential to conduct interdisciplinary research on the border of disciplines and established partner relations with international scientific units, in particular – from ERA. The new Department managed to obtain research funding of EUR 7 m. for their research. Besides, prof. Wojtkowski gained additional funding of almost EUR 9 m. to set a new centre – the International Centre for Translational Eye Research. The activity of this centre, being a continuation of CREATE, will contribute to solving important societal problems. ICTER aims to develop new therapies and diagnostic tools to detect and treat various visual dysfunctions (including age-related), not infrequently leading to blindness.
The most important step towards proper implementation of the CREATE project was the recruitment of the ERA Chair holder. The selection proceeding was transparent and was carried out by the International Selection Committee, composed mainly of ERC grant holders. As a result, Professor Maciej Wojtkowski was selected, a world-widely renowned scientist working in the field of biomedical imaging.

On the course of the project, the ERA Chair holder:
- established and expanded the Department of Physical Chemistry of Biological Systems;
- set the lab for optical imaging;
- established and implemented research agenda for PCBS – i.e. Physical Optics (fundamental studies), Application photonics to biology, Application of optics to medicine;
- selected synergetic groups willing to collaborate with the ERA chair holder (5 research groups);
- elaborated tutoring and mentoring programme, in particular for synergetic groups (as a result there were 266 lab & study visits of IPC researchers, 18 interdisciplinary lectures, 16 business lectures);
- secured funds and conducted research (ca. EUR 7 m. for research).

Besides that, prof. Wojtkowski gained additional funding of almost EUR 9 m. for setting a new centre – the International Centre for Translational Eye Research.

In the course of the project, IPC carried out dissemination activities aimed to effectively communicate research results to the IPC community and other stakeholders. In total, 31 open access publications and 23 press notes/informational releases have been produced. We organised 1 conference, 3 symposia, 18 interdisciplinary lectures of renowned scientists, 16 business lectures. The ERA Chair members delivered 46 conference talks and presented 22 posters. We have organised multiple events popularising science and widely shared our experience on the ERA Chairs programme with partners. The CREATE results were published in media addressed to different kinds of readers ranging from articles in peer-reviewed scientific journals to popular science articles on websites and in magazines.

An important effect of the CREATE project was the transformation of the IPC PhD programme to become more interdisciplinary, intersectoral and international. Taken actions and acquired funding helped in obtaining A+, the highest excellence category among research units in Poland (A+) (top 5% of research units).
The CREATE project was dedicated to unlock, develop and extend the research potential of the Institute. The actions aimed at implementing the abovementioned objectives of the CREATE project have influenced the progress beyond the state of the art and socio-economic surrounding in many ways. First and foremost, acquiring the ERA Chair holder and establishing the new IPC specialisation at the border on chemistry/physics and biology/medicine significantly improved the research potential of IPC and, as a result, contributed to the national and regional economy by strengthening their innovative potential.

Under the CREATE project, PCBS and synergetic teams contributed to the development of new tools for eye imaging based on optical coherence tomography.
The ERA Chair holder’s research will have a direct impact on society, and its health, through:
- changing the paradigm of optical imaging to improve techniques based on optical tomography OCT,
- developing alternative methods for contrast enhancement in OCM microangiography of growing brain tumours.
- fighting the drug resistance of bacteria.

The CREATE project impacted also the national and international socio-economic environment by providing access to IPC infrastructure and IPC scientists (ELAD+ database). Inclusion in the Advisory Board of the CREATE project representatives of business and authority has also improved interconnectivity between government, academia and enterprises.
Photo of the ERA Chair holder
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