Awards on ‘National Scientific Students’ Associations Conference’ - Zsófia Bujtár July 2, 2021

Zsófia Bujtár won the first prize in the section of Bioinformatics and systems biology

What is your research paper for the 'National Scientific Students' Associations Conference' („Országos Tudományos Diákköri Konferencia", OTDK in short) about? What was the outcome of the research you presented at the conference?
My OTDK thesis is about mathematical modelling of the connection between the cell cycle, the circadian clock and the DNA damage. Our central question deals with treatments of cancer patients when DNA damage is induced to destroy tumour cells and stop their intense cell division. We investigate the effect of therapy at a special time of the day. In our research we improved a previously published model and – thanks to it – we could compare different scenarios. This helped me to find explanations for the behaviour of the cell cycle (on several time scales), to understand the reason behind findings, the important role of the coupling between the circadian rhythm and the cell cycle, and the direct and indirect effects of DNA damage on the cell cycle through the circadian rhythm. In addition to computer-based (theoretical) research, collaboration with an experimental research group working in wet laboratory is essential: my predictions from simulations have been validated by experimental results.

What are the practical applications of this topic? Where and how can the research results be applied?
The circadian rhythm is a less known, but all the more important biological process (a Nobel Prize was awarded for the discovery of its molecular mechanisms a few years ago). It is an internal (circadian) clock, and for its proper functioning, our daily routine (regular sleep times, mealtimes, etc) is essential. The circadian clock depends not only on many things, but it also influences many things: for example, it influences what time of the day a particular medication is most effective (this is what chronotherapy is about). Our research looked into how DNA damage affects the cell cycle at different times of the day. Although we focused our studies on filamentous fungi, - due to the similarity of the basic mechanisms between species - the aim of our basic research was to take a small step so that cancer therapy could be more personalized with an optimized timing during the day.

How long have you been working on this topic? How did you find this field of research and why did you become interested in it?
I joined Prof. Attila Csikász-Nagy's research group as a BSc student. During discussions with my supervisor, I got to know the potential, the challenges and the applications of systems biology, computational and mathematical modelling of biological processes (because at that time his course was announced later, in the last BSc semester). I got excited about it (and I still find it a very exciting research area) because it gives me the opportunity to apply mathematical methods, logical thinking in an interesting and important health research, in understanding biological processes. Back then, that was the reason why I chose to study bionics, so I feel that I can apply the knowledge I gained during my BSc and MSc studies in this research direction.

How did you choose your supervisor? How would you describe your work together?
I wanted to get involved in a research project where we are investigating important questions using exciting methods. That is why I chose the research group of Prof. Attila Csikász-Nagy, who has opened many new and thrilling scientific approaches to me over the past years, not to mention his extensive international research network (starting from summer school, conferences, through Erasmus+ internship to our collaboration in the USA).

What do you think is the secret or "recipe" for a successful (O)TDK thesis?
Writing an essay involves many challenges, for example, not all creative ideas (formulating sentences, structuring the essay) come automatically. Being able to document partial results (including dead ends) transparently to myself and writing the essay on time (not leaving it to the last minute) lead to not only less stressful but also more effective research days. I would also like to highlight that my supervisor organised a session for his research group before the presentations in the first round, where each of his contender students could do a "rehearsal". Here I received a lot of feedback and constructive criticism (primarily from my supervisor), which I could apply in my presentations. In addition, before the OTDK presentations, a communication specialist was invited and he held an interactive and practical training session on useful presentation techniques, from which I could greatly benefit. But the OTDK did not end with the presentation of my research, as I also had the opportunity to listen to several high-quality talks from my peers. I would encourage everyone (be it an (O)TDK participant or "just" an interested listener) to dare to ask questions: on the one hand, it is a very good feedback for the presenter, and on the other hand, it is a way for us, the questioners, to really expand our knowledge (remember, there is no wrong question