19 January 2022 – “Some people like extreme sports. I like science and discoveries: they give me an adrenaline kick,” says new EMBO Installation Grantee Karolina Szczepanowska about her motivation for pursuing a career in science. Originally from Poland, she moved to Belgium over 15 years ago for PhD research and subsequently worked in Cologne, Germany, a lively hub for mitochondrial research. The decision to return was tough for Szczepanowska, who was drawn by family reasons. She had concerns about moving to a country that was very different from the one she left, and about losing the scientific network she had built abroad – but both were unfounded. “The EMBO Installation Grant will not only help me to maintain the collaborations I had in the past, but also to meet completely new people,” she adds.
In 2021, Szczepanowska joined the International Institute of Molecular Mechanisms and Machines, Polish Academy of Sciences, as one of its first group leaders. “Poland is a very dynamic country that is filled with a good energy towards new discoveries. There is a lot of excitement,” she says. Inspired by encounters with scientists there, she decided to apply her mitochondria expertise to explore a new field of research. Now Szczepanowska focusses on the OXPHOS system in cancer. Using proteomics, she studies the dynamics of these large molecular machines at the core of the mitochondria: how they are maintained, repaired, and degraded, and how cancer cells use the pathways to survive or change. In the future, she hopes to design strategies for translational medicine: “If turnover and dependency on OXPHOS are different in different cancers, it will open a window for individualized therapies.”