Pictured above: IBRO 2013 Return Home Fellow, Zeljka Krsnik (standing), from the Croatian Institute for Brain Research in Zagreb.
It is always a pleasure for IBRO to catch up with our Return Home Fellows and find out what they have been doing since their fellowship ended. To our delight, we often find they are making great strides in their careers and research. In the case of IBRO 2013 Return Home Fellow Zeljka Krsnik from Croatia, she is not only progressing with her own individual research in human cortical development but also helping to mentor young researchers and develop the Center of Excellence for Basic, Clinical and Translational Neuroscience at the Croatian Institute for Brain Research. She is inspiring us all with her spirit and dedication to neuroscience! Find out more in the interview below.
What are your current research interests? Currently, I am collaborating with several groups both at the Croatian Institute for Brain Research (CIBR) in Zagreb and abroad at Yale and Rutgers University, continuing my research on revealing some exciting questions of the cellular events and molecular mechanisms of human cortical development.
What first attracted or inspired you to go into neuroscience in Croatia? During my Neuroscience PhD program, learning from my mentor Professor Ivica Kostovic - an outstanding expert for human brain development at CIBR - was truly inspiring. Once you are in the field, it is easy to find an inspiration every single day, both in research and teaching. Also, brainstorming with students can be extremely inspiring.
Where did you study outside of Croatia and what was that experience like? Actually, my first experience studying abroad was a short-term stay at the University of Freiburg in Germany as a young PhD student, and that enabled me to learn new methodology and transfer it to CIBR. Later, I did my postdoctoral training at Yale University, School of Medicine, in the Sestan lab in the Neurobiology Department. Studying in such a state-of-the-art place and being surrounded with a stimulating multicultural environment was a life-changing experience. Even to date, I collaborate with my colleagues at Yale which I still consider to be an amazing place to do science.
How did you first hear about the IBRO Return Home Fellowship Program? Over the years, I attended several IBRO Summer Schools which I found to be very useful. So, as an IBRO alumnus, I liked to follow what was going on and learned about the program that way.
How did the Return Home Fellowship help you in your career? Being rewarded with an IBRO Return Home Fellowship, a highly respected start-up grant, made all the difference in my career path. The IBRO grant enabled me to set up my own lab, present data at several conferences and publish several papers. Furthermore, it helped me to secure an assistant professor position at the University of Zagreb, School of Medicine. Therefore, I am extremely grateful to the IBRO Fellowships Committee in granting me this Fellowship. It enabled me to start my independent research path, apply for other competitive research grants and offered enough funds to become a mentor to my first PhD student.
What are the biggest challenges and opportunities for neuroscientists in Croatia today? I would say that today, the prospectives for neuroscientists in Croatia are better than ever. We were recently awarded with the Center of Excellence in Basic, Clinical and Translational Neuroscience Program, with Dr. Milos Judas as Director of CIBR. It is a huge interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary research program that combines different basic neuroscience fields (neurobiology, neuroembryology, genetic, neuropharmacology, etc) with the clinical disciplines (neuroradiology, neurology, pediatric neurology, perinatology, neurorehabilitation, etc). It includes cooperation of several universities and research institutions in Croatia, and even a non-clinical research group sponsored by UNESCO. I would like to emphasize that the program gives an opportunity to combine basic neuroscience research results with structural and functional MRI studies in order to establish new criteria for earlier diagnostic and treatment of a variety of neurodevelopmental and vascular disorders.
What are your research plans for the future? My plan for the future is to make at least a small contribution to the understanding of the cellular events and genetic mechanisms of the human cortical development, especially as a part of the study with my collaborators, Drs. Pasko Rakic and Alvaro Duque at Yale. Also, I would like to continue - as part of the main goal of the Center of Excellence for Basic, Clinical and Translational Neuroscience at CIBR - to continue and expand collaborative research with colleagues at Rutgers University to answer some of the challenging genetic questions regarding the hypoxic-ischemic insult in experimental model. And, most importantly, I plan to send several PhD students for a short-term education abroad to gather experience and transfer knowledge back to our University. Being exposed to multicultural dynamic environments during your studies is something I will always consider priceless.