Dr Jacek Kolanowski in the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute's Innovation Centre

Dr Jacek Kolanowski

New Innovation Centre Head brings passion for methodology from Poland to Australia

14 March 2024

The new Head of Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute’s Innovation Centre, Dr Jacek Kolanowski may only be a couple of months into his new role, but he already has big plans for the future – driven in part by his passion for robust methodology.

As a librarian guides people through rows of books to find the information they’re looking for, Dr Kolanowski wants to ensure that the Innovation Centre is a place where researchers can access the latest technology and get the support they need to answer their research questions quickly and easily.

“I want to instil in scientists' minds that the Institute’s Innovation Centre doesn't just provide them with infrastructure, we can also help them design their scientific workflow and take them from point A to point Z with us,” says Dr Kolanowski.

From Poland to Australia and back

Dr Kolanowski took up the position of Head of the Research Facilities and Innovation Centre in January after making the move from his home country of Poland.

Having been a Postdoctoral Research and Teaching Fellow in chemical biology at the University of Sydney from 2014 to 2017 and being married to an Australian, the Polish researcher knew it was a no-brainer to move back down under to take on the new role.

“I have lived in Germany and France, and though I got used to these places, it took me time to feel at home. But when I came to Australia it was very quick – within a couple of months I felt like I fit in,” says Dr Kolanowski.

“I think it was partially because there was no language barrier, but also because I feel like everyone here is from somewhere else—it’s a very multicultural country. So that felt very comfortable. And it also helps that I moved from the winter to the summer,” he laughs.

Dr Kolanowski comes to the Institute from his dual role as a research group leader (Dept. of Molecular Probes and Prodrugs) and Director of the Centre for Chemical Biology (partner site of the EU-OPENSCREEN European Research Infrastructure Consortium) at the Institute of Bioorganic Chemistry at the Polish Academy of Sciences.

There he led an interdisciplinary team of over 20 chemists, biologists, data scientists and engineers to create the first academic High-Throughput Screening platform in the nation, supplemented by one of few Minflux microscopes in the world, and to provide certified R&D services to academic and industrial users globally.

Through this role, he was also involved in policy advice for the European Commission on research infrastructures and intersectoral translation of health research.

“In the last five years I have experienced first-hand how research infrastructures can play a significant role in connecting different sectors, accelerating commercialisation, and informing strategy and policy, and I am very excited to explore these avenues as the Head of the Innovation Centre,” says Dr Kolanowski.

Focusing on the methodology behind the science

When Dr Kolanowski first started out, he had a range of career interests - originally considering degrees in chemistry, archaeology and spatial planning before deciding to take the science route due to the variety it offered.

“I enjoy working with people across different areas of expertise and bringing different things which are not obviously linked and putting them together – and I think science is a great place for me to do that,” says Dr Kolanowski.

This interest led Dr Kolanowski to uncover his ultimate passion for the methodology behind the science.

“I found myself fascinated with working on the robustness of the methodology rather than a particular topic or particular biology question,” says Dr Kolanowski.

“The deeper I went, the more I realised how the pressure around scientists and what we create often pushes us away from thinking about how we approach a research question and thinking more towards getting a particular outcome. But when you look for example at Nobel prizes, many of them are for the methodology - which makes sense because this can be applied to many different areas of research.”

Shaping the future of the Innovation Centre

Having moved from Europe to Australia, one of Dr Kolanowski’s focuses in his new role is to form more industrial and international partnerships with the Innovation Centre.

Dr Kolanowski says, “Australia is very strong in science, but at the same time, it's far away from everywhere else. With my knowledge of how Europe functions, I can transplant some of the things they are doing there and also create bridges between Australia and the European research environment not only with researchers but also with other research infrastructure initiatives.”

Dr Kolanowski aims to have the Innovation Centre’s eight unique facilities at the forefront of new and unique infrastructures and technologies while also building the Centre to be a world leader in techniques and assays.

“Researchers here at the Institute develop techniques, protocols, or assays, and if another researcher reads about them, they may take six months or more to try and replicate them in their lab - which sometimes works and sometimes doesn't,” says Dr Kolanowski.

“What we can do is pick up these assays, put them through the Innovation Centre and offer them to the broader community as a service. This would save on unnecessary training and ensure resources are not being duplicated or wasted – allowing scientists to progress their projects quicker.”

This focus on the strength of the methodology emphasises Dr Kolanowski’s ultimate goal for the Innovation Centre: to provide a service that offers more than just access to technologies.

“We often focus on equipment, and many of our access models are equipment access models. But there is huge potential in the know-how and scientific consultancy of the project with the experts we have here at the Innovation Centre because there is no way a single researcher can be on top of everything that is happening,” says Dr Kolanowski.

“Having this combination of equipment is already unique. But if you top it up with our expertise and what we can offer in terms of experimental design, data analysis, and development of your comprehensive and robust research programmes, that's really the difference we can offer.

“I am convinced this business model, with proven success in leading European and US Research Infrastructures, can be a true catalyst for the translation of Australian developments into the market, increasing the real-life impact of Australian research and strengthening the Australian economy”.

Dr Kolanowski is also keen to expand the Innovation Centre's capacity to include new technologies that drive the implementation of the 3R policies, which aim to replace, reduce, and refine the use of animals in research.

“Thanks to the recognised excellence of Institute researchers in developing and utilising cardiac in vitro tissue-in-a-dish models, we can now integrate it with the Innovation Centre's infrastructure and expertise to scale up and provide services more widely to academic and industrial users,” says Dr Kolanowski.

Acknowledgement of Country

The Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute acknowledges Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures; and to Elders past and present.

Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute - The Home of Heart Research for 30 Years