Wednesday, 13. March 2024

Agnieszka Witalisz-Siepracka, Pharmacologist

Enhancing the role of the innate immune system in cancer defence

Agnieszka Witalisz-Siepracka, PhD, a postdoctoral researcher at the Division of Pharmacology at KL, is investigating the role of the innate immune system, particularly the mechanisms of natural killer cells, in cancer development. "We want to understand how our immune system responds to cancer and how we can strengthen it. Immunotherapy, especially immune checkpoints currently provide modern and very promising therapeutic targets in cancer treatment. Approved immune checkpoint inhibitors enhance the activity of T-cells which belong to the adaptive immune system, whereas we are focusing on discovering novel immune checkpoints to improve the responses of innate lymphocytes.", explains Agnieszka Witalisz-Siepracka, PhD. She initiated the immunological focus of the Division of Pharmacology. Since 2022, she has been working as the principal investigator of the project "Uncovering new checkpoints in natural killer cells to prevent breast cancer metastasis". Together with Dr Sonia Vallet from the Division of Internal Medicine 2 at the University Hospital Krems and the Division of Molecular Oncology and Haematology, she is analysing innate lymphocytes in blood samples from breast cancer patients. The project is funded by the Lower Austria Research Promotion Agency (Gesellschaft für Forschungsförderung Niederösterreich m.b.H., GFF). 

During school, Agnieszka Witalisz discovered her interest in human cells, genetics and hands-on laboratory work which led her to study biotechnology at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow. Her master's thesis focused on the role of macrophages in wound healing, which sparked her interest in the intricate mechanisms of the immune system. She didn´t imagine being a researcher during those days, she simply followed her interests and was fascinated by the high involvement of the immune system in almost every disease. "Immunology opens up a wealth of hypotheses to test, that's amazing," enthuses Witalisz-Siepracka, PhD. In search of a high-calibre immunology laboratory, she ventured abroad and joined Mathias Müller's laboratory at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna as a PreDoc. She completed her PhD under the supervision of Dr Birgit Strobl and Prof. Mathias Müller, whose research focused on the role of natural killer cells in solid tumours. After her first maternity leave, Witalisz-Siepracka, PhD continued her research on natural killer cells at the Institute of Pharmacology and Toxicology at the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna. Working at Veronika Sexl Laboratory, she consolidated her methodological expertise and became a respected independent scientist in cancer research with a focus on natural killer cells. In January 2021 she joined the Division of Pharmacology headed by Professor Dr Dagmar Stoiber-Sakaguchi. “The idea of being able to build something myself within a small team and at a young university was very tempting and exciting at the same time”, says the researcher, explaining her decision for the Karl Landsteiner University of Health Sciences.

Witalisz-Siepracka's responsibilities at KL go far beyond her research work. "Teaching in the medical degree programmes is very demanding and motivating at the same time. It's great to get students excited about pharmacology and help them to understand mechanisms instead of just learning them by heart," says the scientist. Together with Dr Clarissa Eibl, MA from the Division of Physiology, she has been organising the KL Lunchtime Seminar Series for three years, at which renowned national and international speakers talk about current projects and findings from basic and applied research. Agnieszka Witalisz-Siepracka is also the initiator of the NK Symposium, which took place for the first time in 2023 and is likely to be repeated regularly.

The Divisions of Pharmacology and Physiology are currently moving into their new laboratory in the new KL-U-building, a move that Witalisz-Siepracka, PhD is looking forward to with excitement: “Setting up the lab benches was really fun. The new lab also makes it easier to recruit students.” In the future, she will continue to expand immunological research at the division with the clear aim of acquiring further funding and leading additional projects, also in cooperation with the university hospitals.

Link to the KL research information system KRIS

Agnieszka Witalisz-Siepracka PhD

Agnieszka Witalisz-Siepracka PhD

Scientific Staff (PostDoc)
Division of Pharmacology