Photo by: Boris Šćitar/Večernji list/PIXSELL

IGOR ŠTAGLJAR

A scientist who wants to stop cancer

The Stagljar Lab. Sounds cool, doesn’t it? Almost like a band you expect to play some good rock music. Even its website is very much like a comic strip, dominated by an image of a superhero scientist in a white coat and jet boots that help him reach for the stars. The message is clear. It’s impossible to stop scientific development. Science knows no obstacles and it quickly transcends all boundaries. Igor Štagljar is one of those scientists who break all barriers. He is professor of molecular genetics and biochemistry at Donnelly Centre at the Medical School of the University of Toronto and the co-founder of biotech companies Dualsystems Biotech Inc. (Zurich, Switzerland) and ProteinNetwork Therapeutix (Toronto, Canada). Among many awards and prizes he has received so far for his discoveries, inventions and patents, Prof. Štagljar is also the recipient of the Canadian Oscar for innovation technology.

He was born in Zagreb in 1966. His mother Sonja worked as an accountant for a department store, and his father Mirko was the head of the prototyping laboratory at Brodarski Institute, as well as a great athlete. He is one of the Croatian rowing legends and there is a bust of him on the Walk of Fame of the Croatian Sport in Jarun. The sport gene was inherited by Professor Igor Štagljar, who played handball in his college days with Patrik Ćavar, Vladimir Jelčić and Bruno Gudelj, players who won gold with the Croatian national team in the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. He graduated in 1990 and then went to do his PhD thesis at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich, one of the best universities in the world in the field of natural and technical sciences, which produced Nobel laureates including Einstein and Röntgen, as well as two Croatians, Lavoslav Ružička and Vladimir Prelog. He received his PhD in 1994. After two short fellowships in Zurich, he furthered his postdoctoral studies at the University of Washington in Seattle in 2001 with Professor Stanley Fields. He has lived in Toronto since 2005.

Prof. Štagljar describes himself as a combination of a scientist and manager, a kind of a “scientific labourer” who spends almost 80 percent of his time writing scientific projects. The funds received through these projects allow the laboratory team to continue doing their research. The times of a stereotypical scientist who works alone in the lab trying to discover a life-saving solution are long gone. Today’s scientists are supposed to have great managerial skills and lead a highly coordinated team of people. The competition is huge; interdisciplinarity, therefore, is a key to success.

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