Our a visiting scientist from Zagreb, Croatia: Professor Nela Pivac

2017. november 22.

A couple of weeks ago a new guest arrived at our institute from the Ruđer Bošković Institute /Zagreb, Croatia/, Professor Nela Pivac. She came for the invitation of Dóra Zelena, the head of Laboratory of Behavioral and Stress studies and during her 3 months stay they work together on a common project titled: The contribution of the glycome to resilience and vulnerability in posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Besides the common work in the animal facility, professor Pivac delivers several talks about the results of the several projects led by her in the RBI.
-You arrived here in the frame of a Visiting Fellowship by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. What do you think about this initiative?
- This initiative is perfect for these kind of collaborations, and I really like very much this opportunity. It is always very useful when scientists can discuss their plans and projects in person, and they have the possibility to realize the scientific collaboration, moreover, can write their common articles together. In addition, I am very lucky because I had a full support from my Hungarian host Dr. Dóra Zelena, who did her best to help me and make my stay in Budapest comfortable and problem-free.
- Could you introduce us your Institute briefly, please?
- The Ruđer Bošković Institute is more than a research centre, it also participates in science applications, technology transfer and supports the higher education. Its multidisciplinary character is reflected through a wide range of different research fields from theoretical and experimental physics through marine and environmental research and geosciences, till informational and computer sciences and electronics / engineering. Naturally, as a leading Croatian public research institute, RBI collaborates with many research institutions and universities including foreign institutes which uphold the same values and vision, and participates in different international research projects, from the NATO, NSF, DAAD etc. till Horizon2020. We are altogether 900 people and around 600 of them belong to the academic staff. RBI scientists actively participate in teaching at undergraduate level and higher education via a large number of doctoral and specialist studies in cooperation with universities in Croatia.
- Where does your laboratory belong to?

- I am the head of the Laboratory for Molecular Neuropsychiatry, part of the Division of Molecular Medicine (DMM). DMM is subdivided into 11 laboratories that study oncology, neuropsychiatry, diabetes, epigenetics, personalized medicine approach and oxidative stress, and it also has an animal unit. Besides the interdisciplinary from basic methods of the different disciplines, we also apply animal models, to improve the understanding of molecular processes in both health and disease, and to find how they may be used to facilitate disease prevention, diagnosis and therapy. It is worth to mention, that DMM possesses numerous valuable samples collected through long-standing collaborations with clinicians (e.g. in oncology, neurology, psychiatry and others), and represents an important biomedical core, a centre of expertise and innovation.
- What is your main research interest?
- Biological psychiatry. We study the molecular basis of neuropsychiatric disorders, their biomarkers, and the biomarkers of the treatment response. Therefore, we focus our research on finding the differences in the neurobiological or genetic background that may be involved, and that let us be able to distinguish between vulnerable and resilient subjects with particular neuropsychiatric disorders. We collaborate with psychiatrists and neurologists from the whole Croatia, and with scientists outside Croatia (USA, Estonia, UK). We study Alzheimer’s disease, mild cognitive impairment and other dementias and investigate neurobiological underpinning of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), schizophrenia, depression, alcohol dependence, ADHD, conduct disorders and other disorders. We are also interested in dissecting these complex neuropsychiatric disorders into smaller, clinically more narrowly defined subtypes. Right now one of our most exciting research topic is the metabolic and glycomic markers of PTSD.
- What is the main reason of your collaboration with Dóra Zelena?
- I started this collaboration with Dr. Dóra Zelena since we wanted to improve our research with a translational approach from data obtained in humans to data in animal model of PTSD. We hope, this approach can help us understand this complicated disorder better, and eventually we might help our clinicians to prevent the development of this serious disorder.
- What do you regard as your greatest scientific achievement?
- I could say that my awards and winning research projects, however, I am also very proud that I have succeeded to transfer my knowledge, and especially my attitude towards research and work into my young assistants Drs. Matea Nikolac Perkovic and Gordana Nedic Erjavec who were my PhD students previously. Today they are both excellent young researchers, awarded for their scientific achievements.
- What is the common interest with the Hungarian group?
- We aimed to discover new glycomic biomarkers for resilience and vulnerability to PTSD. To do so, we intend to combine human studies done in Zagreb with a PTSD animal model established in Budapest. I do not have to emphasize the importance of the human studies; however, we are focusing on changes that could be detected only in the blood. Thus, in combination with animal model data we might achieve a deeper insight in the centre of the disorder, in the brain.
We also plan to establish a translational approach to metabolomics in PTSD. We could combine human data from Zagreb with animal PTSD model data from Dr. Dóra Zelena, and study metabolome changes in both humans and rats. Both approaches, glycomic and metabolomic, are novel approaches so I look forward to seeing our results!