Following the fifth public tender for professional training announced at the end of February 2019, the Ana Rukavina Foundation Board of Directors has decided to allocate funds for professional development to candidate Dr. Alen Ostojić, a hematology specialist from the Zagreb Clinical Hospital.
Following applications, the Foundation’s Board of Trustees has selected the best candidate for whom the Foundation will cover all the costs of one year of training at the reputable National Cancer Institute (NCI) in Bethesda (Maryland) in the USA, and upon his return, Dr. Ostojic will be acquired to apply knowledge in everyday work with patients.
Before leaving for a year of professional training, we spoke with Dr. Ostojić:
1. Dr. Ostojić, for starters, tell us something about yourself, your career so far, and your education.
After graduating from the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Zagreb, I completed my internship at the Merkur Clinical Hospital, after which I began specialist training in hematology at the University Hospital Centre Zagreb. At the same time, I enrolled in a postgraduate doctoral study in Biomedicine and Health at the Faculty of Medicine, University of Zagreb. I have listened to and passed all the subjects of my studies, and my doctoral dissertation is underway on “The frequency and risk factors for the development of invasive aspergillosis in patients with malignant hematological diseases”. Since April 2018 I have been working as a hematologist at the Department of Hematology, University Hospital Centre Zagreb.
2. What motivated you to apply for the public tender of Ana Rukavina Foundation for professional training?
The National Cancer Institute (NCI) in Bethesda is the leading institution in the world for research into malignancies and their treatment. Considering that the tender was open for training in the areas of myeloid malignancies and cell therapy, which is my area of interest, it was only natural for me to apply for the tender.
3. What do you expect from one year of professional training at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) – National Institutes of Health (NHI), Bethesda (USA)?
Acquiring new knowledge and skills in the research and development of new therapeutic approaches in the treatment of myeloid malignancies will enhance my understanding and treatment options. Ultimately, it will hopefully benefit our patients. Working with eminent experts in the field at NCI will create new opportunities for further collaboration.
4. Who will be your mentor?
The mentor of my training program will be Professor Steven Zivko Pavletic, a leading figure in immunology research and treatment of transplant recipients after allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation.
5. Tell us a bit more about the program itself – what exactly will you be doing at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) – National Institutes of Health (NHI) in Bethesda (USA) in the next year?
The last two decades in the study of myeloid hematological neoplasms of the classical cytogenetic and molecular methods have made a great contribution to understanding the pathophysiology of particular disease groups and thus finding targeted therapy. Over the last 10 years or so, the development of a new generation molecular sequencing method has revealed many mutations that are largely somatic but partly inherited. Although they are present in up to 90% of patients with myeloid malignancies, they have also been found in a large number of people without these diseases. The significance of one part of these molecular changes for development, prognosis, and therapeutic approaches, primarily in patients with MDS and AML, will be the area of my work. The second part will be acquaintance with the basic principles of cell therapy treatment. A CAR-T cell that is already affirmed in the field of lymphoid malignancies and the effectiveness of this modality of treatment is beginning to be tested in the treatment of myeloid malignancies.
6. How can this help to patients in Croatia when you get back?
Learning new diagnostic methods and their meaning, as well as getting acquainted with new therapeutic approaches, will certainly give me a broader perspective on the diagnostic treatment and choice of appropriate therapy in patients with myeloid malignancies. I will endeavor to transfer the acquired knowledge and skills to the parent collective, and thus make my own contribution in further improving the work of our Institute, which is still at a high level in the application of modern methods of treatment, primarily as a reflection of the enormous effort of all employees of the Department of Hematology.
7. In your opinion, how important are these kinds of public tenders, such as the one from Ana Rukavina Foundation, for professional training of young doctors, especially hematologists?
Hematology in Croatia is not far behind, or at least not to a large extent, in the hematology of the developed part of the world. The fact that innovations in hematology are being “born” in institutions to which the Foundation is sending young hematologists and related professions for training makes a great contribution to the further development of our hematology. This is ultimate to the great benefit of the patients. Accordingly, the Foundation’s public tenders make a major contribution to the personal professional development of the grantees, the environment in which they work and the well-being of the patients they treat – thus a contribution of great importance to the environment in which we live.
8. And for the end, what is your message for everyone who follows the work of Ana Rukavina Foundation and what can they expect when you come back to Croatia?
The expectations need not be huge, because a year in the medical framework is not a big period, but it is certainly a significant step forward. Upon my return, I hope to be even more successful in my business, and with new skills and knowledge, I want to start some projects as a continuation of my refinement work that awaits me. I would conclude by saying “thank you” to the Foundation, the people who are dedicated to it, and all the citizens who help the Foundation with its donations.
We wish a safe trip to dr. Ostojić, a valuable experience, and new forms of knowledge so he could provide the best possible medical care and hope to the patients in Croatia.