“Research is teamwork”

Adelina Plachokova is currently working as a researcher at the Radboud Institute for Molecular Life Sciences (RIMLS), Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Center. She takes us back and tells us how her journey with the Osteology Foundation began 13 years ago and is still developing now in a very positive way.

It is the year 2007. Adelina works as an assistant professor at the Medical University in Sofia, Bulgaria whilst simultaneously completing her PhD at Radboud University in Nijmegen, Netherlands. Adelina is in the final year of her PhD. She is doing research on bone regeneration. It is one of the world's leading laboratories in the field of biomaterials and tissue engineering she is working in. Her wish is to continue her postdoctoral research in the field of periodontal regeneration. She quickly realizes that the only way to fulfil this wish is to obtain a research grant. During her quest to fulfil this wish, she comes across the Osteology Foundation. Her supervisor John Jansen supports her to submit a grant application to the Foundation, and a few months, much to her delight, Adelina’s project is accepted for an Osteology Researcher Grant! This is the first successful step together with the Osteology Foundation for Adelina. She is much looking forward to continuing doing research in the field of periodontal regeneration.

The development of Adelina’s story with the Osteology Foundation is fascinating. The Osteology Foundation asked her to take part in an interview about her career path. She will take you herself through her history and development with the Foundation.

OF: In 2011 you were invited to present the study from your 2008 Osteology Researcher Grant at the International Osteology Symposium in Cannes. How was this experience for you?

Adelina: It was quite a unique and exciting experience. I was standing on the big stage at the festival complex in Cannes and was discussing my research with experts in this field for the first time. This study which the Osteology Foundation supported resulted in my first publication in the Journal of Clinical Periodontology: ‘Alkaline phosphatase immobilization onto Bio-Gide® and Bio-Oss® for periodontal and bone regeneration’.

Adelina presenting her 2008 study at the International Osteology Symposium in Cannes

OF: In 2011 you also participated in the Osteology Research Academy Lucerne. How was the social aspect and how did it help you in your professional development?

Adelina: The social experience was great. I met a lot of colleagues and made some friends with whom I still keep in touch and see regularly at other congresses. This was the beginning of a special friendship with Professor Reinhard Gruber. I gained not only a highly respected colleague with whom I exchange research ideas and students. I got also a friend, with whom I spend time with together with both our families.

The Osteology Research Academy Lucerne in 2011 gave me a lot of inspiration to continue doing research. I remember the great talk with distinguished leaders in our field. They were invited to share their expertise and experiences with us. I would like to acknowledge some people that left a special memory in my mind. Professor Christoph Hämmerle with his welcoming inspirational speech in the hotel on the top of the hill (very symbolic). Professor Mariano Sanz with his comprehensive presentation on the challenges in periodontal research. Professor Reinhard Gruber with his useful tips on how to write successful research grants. Professor Frank Schwarz with his intriguing model of peri-implantitis. Professor Dieter Bosshardt with his beautiful histological slides and Dr Daniel Thoma with his interesting clinical cases. Finally, a personal highlight of mine was a short conversation with Paul Note. He came on the last day of the Osteology Research Academy and impressed me with his encyclopedic knowledge.

Last but not least, I would like to acknowledge Dr Kristian Tersar. He was my first person I had contact with at the Osteology Foundation back in 2007 as Science Manager. Dr Kay Horsch was the then Executive Director of the Osteology Foundation. I still admire them for their energy, friendliness and creativity. They designed the brilliant concept of the Osteology Research Academy. During the week of the Academy you get a summary of all you need as a young scientist. I wish I had the chance to attend this course at the start of my research career back in 2004. 

Daniel Thoma (left) and Frank Schwarz (right) at the Osteology Research Academy Lucerne in 2011

Group picture of the Osteology Research Academy Lucerne attendees in 2011

Adelina and Dieter Bosshardt at the Osteology Research Academy in Lucerne in 2011

OF: Was it your first time in Switzerland? What did you like best about the country during your stay?

Adelina: It was my first time in Switzerland and I absolutely loved it, the natural beauty was breath-taking – and politeness of the people. I have since gone back with my family to relive the happy memories.

OF: In 2013 you handed in a research proposal for an Osteology Advanced Researcher Grant entitled ‘Periodontal regeneration via cell homing’. This work is one of the pioneering studies that explored the concept of cell homing for periodontal regeneration. For the first time the local application of the homing agent SDF-1 alpha was investigated in a critical-sized periodontal defect model. After 6 weeks of implantation the designed homing construct with SDF-1 alpha significantly improved periodontal regeneration. How did you come up with the idea?

Adelina: The idea for this study came from my colleague, Dr Jeroen van den Beucken. He is a medical biologist and had previously tried the concept of cell homing in a bone augmentation model. At that time, I had already been working at Radboud University in Nijmegen in the Netherlands as an assistant professor in Periodontology and Implantology department which was ran by Professor John Jansen. I found the concept of cell homing very interesting and decided to try it with periodontal regeneration. Jeroen and I have been working together since our first Osteology Researcher Grant in 2007. Our expertise complements one another’s, making us a great team. This year we have submitted a main application for the Osteology Advanced Researcher Grant together on a very interesting and novel topic. It would be wonderful if the Osteology Foundation approves our research proposal, allowing us once again the opportunity to carry out high quality research.

OF: How important was the Osteology Foundation Grant for the ‘Periodontal regeneration via cell homing’ study in 2013 and why?

Adelina: The Osteology Foundation Grant for the ‘Periodontal regeneration via cell homing’ study in 2013 was very important. This was my second researcher grant from the Osteology Foundation and for the first time, I was the principal investigator in a research project. Moreover, I was invited to present this study at the International Osteology Symposium Monaco in 2016 as a finalist in the best Basic Research Category and once again we were able to publish in the journal with the highest impact factor in the field of periodontology: the Journal of Clinical Periodontology.

OF: Did you expect that this research would lead to such an impactful publication – ‘Periodontal regeneration via chemoattractive constructs’ – or that it would be among the top 10% of most downloaded papers between 01/2018 and 12/2019 in the Journal of Clinical Periodontology?

Adelina: I knew that this paper had scientific merit and would have an impact, however I did not expect that it would be among the 10% most downloaded papers of the Journal of Clinical Periodontology between 01/2018 and 12/2019. As a researcher I have learned to always be modest. So, although I dreamed big, I did not dare to think that among all the publications in this renowned journal, that our paper would stand out. I think that the success of this paper has to do with the innovative concept for periodontal regeneration that we herewith proposed as well as the experimental periodontal defect model that our group developed.

OF: What have you personally learned during this research? Do you have any tips for young researchers?

Adelina: I have learned that as a principal investigator you take even more responsibility to bring a study to a successful end. It was not an easy ride. We were an international team and the clinical, research and teaching duties of the co-investigators were running simultaneously throughout the study period. However, we were successful because we pulled together as a team. So, this is also my tip for young researchers. Research is teamwork.

OF: Who would you recommend the Osteology Researcher Grants to and why?

Adelina: To anybody who is involved in research in the field of oral regenerative medicine and has innovative ideas.

OF: Please let us know your top three tips and tricks for a successful grant application for young researchers.

Adelina: My three tips are: be original, dare to challenge the current concepts and never give up. I have also had two grant applications that were rejected by the Osteology Foundation. So as it stands there have been two approved and two rejected grant proposals. Hopefully the recently submitted application will make it three approved and will bring the positive balance back, perhaps allowing me to improve the achievement of the ‘Periodontal regeneration via cell homing’ study.

OF: What were the most impressive encounters you had with people during your time with the Osteology Foundation?

Adelina: They were and still are those with Professor William Giannobile. He is one of the most brilliant and dedicated scientists that I know. He has made outstanding contributions to the fields of oral regenerative medicine, tissue engineering and precision medicine. He is also a very kind person, always open for discussion and extremely supportive. I remember and appreciate all our talks. Especially the one when he encouraged me to submit another grant application to the Osteology Foundation after my research proposal was rejected. I will also never forget how he helped me with my research at the University in Florida in 2017. I was extremely honoured when Professor William Giannobile awarded me with the second prize for the best Basic Research at the International Osteology Symposium Monaco in 2013

Adelina receiving the second prize in the Basic Research Category at the International Osteology Symposium 2013 in Monaco by William Giannobile

We still keep in touch. I was looking forward to meeting up again at the 100th IADR (International Association for Dental Research) congress in Washington this year. There I was invited to give an oral presentation, however, due to COVID-19 the IADR congress was cancelled. Nevertheless, new opportunities will come for sure. I am so happy that Professor Giannobile has been elected as Dean of Harvard School of Dental Medicine, just another great achievement in his impressive career.

OF: If you had to name your personal highlights from your participation in the International Osteology Symposia, what would they be?

Adelina: I have a lot of memorable moments from the Osteology Foundation Symposia. I enjoy it all, from the clinical and scientific presentations, practical workshops to the social events. If I had to choose my personal achievement highlights from the symposia, they would be:

- Oral presentation at the International Osteology Symposium Cannes 2011

- Oral presentation and second prize in the Basic Research Category at the International Osteology Symposium Monaco 2013

- Oral presentation and finalist in the Basic Research Category at the International Osteology Symposium Monaco 2016

- Hands-on Workshop by Professor Istvan Urban at International Osteology Symposium Barcelona 2019

OF: What does your future hold in terms of the Osteology Foundation?

Adelina: Besides providing support for my research, I hope one day to be invited again to give a presentation at the International Osteology Symposium, and to return to the Osteology Research Academy as a guest teacher. I am proud to say that I have a lot of experience teaching and supervising dental students and researchers at the best dental school in the Netherlands for eight consecutive years. In 2018 I was voted as ‘Teacher of the Year’ by my students. This is the highest appreciation a university teacher can get. I think that with my experience and knowledge I could contribute to the noble mission of the Osteology Foundation. I would love to spread knowledge and support research worldwide. The Foundation gave me a chance to make my wish come true, and I will be very happy if I could do something in return.

OF: Thank you very much Adelina for the interesting insights to your Osteology Foundation story!

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