Personal account of my career
I grew up in a beautiful natural environment
with my parents who taught me how to appreciate wildlife and art.
Throughout my life I have lived in many linguistically diverse environments.
By the time I graduated from Zagreb University in 1971, I was fluent
in three languages, aside from Croatian, which facilitated my future
research studies in Great Britain, Germany, Italy, Austria, France
and Spain. My facility with languages, and winning the Rector's
Prize at graduation, contributed to my obtaining a Fulbright Fellowship
which supported my postgraduate studies at the University of Southern
California (USC) from 1972 to 1977. USC had an excellent reputation
in Radiochemistry and Medicinal Chemistry and Medicine, which were
the fields of my PhD research. The excitement of these subjects
still remains with me, and was the main determinant of my career
ambition, to understand the abnormal chemical reactions that underlie
disease, and thereby to help design chemical therapies to treat
1977, as a young Assistant Professor at Zagreb University I worked
on structure-function relationships of drugs and drug delivery systems.
I received a Fellowship from the Norwegian Academy of Science and
from the Polish Academy of Science and visited universities in Oslo
and Krakow. In 1981 I was awarded a prestigious Alexander von Humboldt
Fellowship, which was later renewed in 1991 and 1994. This began
my postdoctoral training, and future sabbatical research residencies,
all of which directly or indirectly contributed to my present activities
in the field of neuroscience and diabetes.
During 1981 and 1982, I studied opioid peptides
dynorphin and alpha-neo endorphin in the nervous system (human brain)
at the Max Planck Institute (Neurochemistry) in Munich, under the
guidance of Professor Dr. Albert Herz and Dr. Bernd Seizinger. Supported
in part by a Fellowship of the European Training Program, I worked
on hormone release as part of a joint project between MPI and University
of Amsterdam. This project was my first scientific collaborative
experience and I greatly enjoyed being a team player. Ever since
then I have greatly enjoyed collaborative projects and look forward
to the collaborations made possible by the JDRF Beta Center.
In 1983 I joined Dr. Cuello at Oxford University
as a Research Associate in the Department of Pharmacology, working
on the central cholinergic system. I moved to my present University,
McGill, beginning as a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of
Pharmacology in 1985, continuing collaborative research with Dr.
Cuello. I was subsequently appointed as an Assistant Professor in
1987 and then Associate Professor 1992.
During my years at McGill I have continued to strengthen
my research approaches by visiting selected laboratories. These
included the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm in 1992 where I learned
the techniques of microdialysis from Dr. Urban Ungerstedt, which
were applied to the study of the release of neurotransmitters in
animals transplanted with genetically engineered cells. In 1994
I began to establish the approaches I needed for my developing interest
in cell signaling and cell differentiation through research in the
laboratory of Dr. Klaus Unsicker, at the University of Heidelberg,
Germany. Together we investigated the role of trophic factors (BDNF,
NGF, IGFs) in the PNS and CNS functions. I extended my research
in this field to the study of cell death mechanisms, in Dr. Mauro
Piacentini's Laboratory of Cell Biology Cell at the University of
Rome, Italy in 1995. Finally, in 1996, I made an important research
contribution through collaboration with Dr Alan Saltiel in the Signal
Transduction Laboratory of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.
Not only was I introduced to front-line problems of signaling in
cell survival, and especially to the roles of MAP kinases, but by
working at the center of an industrial hot-house environment, I
began to learn how to handle the complex but important interactions
between academic and industrial science.
My current research unites different but importantly
related scientific fields. These are 1) mechanisms of cell survival;
2) drug delivery; 3) intracellular signaling pathways; and 4) the
biochemical targets of the diabetic disease process, including those
underlying diabetic neuropathy. For me, this latter field is the
ultimate objective and is the area of convergence of the former
two. My present activities focus on cell survival mechanisms in
islets (in collaboration with Dr. Rosenberg and Dr. Prentki) and
the peripheral nervous system. Important stimuli to these studies
came from an opportunity to examine islet cell death, made possible
by a Canadian MRC Visiting Scientist award (Canada-Italy academic
exchange; cell biology). To prevent or reduce cell death, drugs
need to be delivered at the appropriate rate and site. This is being
explored by employing nano-delivery systems. The collaboration with
Dr. Eisenberg from the Chemistry Department at McGill University
allowed us to develop and test micelles and vesicles to be employed
in diabetes. Aside from the synthesis of block-copolymers at McGill,
my collaboration with Université de Montreal with Dr. JC
Laroux and Dr. F. Winnik greatly expanded the repertoire of biocompatible
polymers that can be employed in delivering therapeutics for diabetes.