Prof. Štefan Vilček: He who burns with passion for science can ignite the flame of desire for knowledge
Prof. Ing. Štefan Vilček, DrSc. is a leading researcher of the Department of Epizootology and Parasitology of the University of Veterinary Medicine and Pharmacy in Košice and a scientific referee of the Centre of Excellence INFEKTZOON. He is also an expert in the area of infectious and parasitic diseases in animals.
He was awarded the prestigious Award for the Lifelong Achievements in the Field of Science and Technology for his significant contribution to the development of molecular diagnostics and epizootology of the viral animal diseases.
Already during his studies, and even after their finish at the Czech Technical University in Prague, prof. Ing. Štefan Vilček, DrSc. began his scientific career with the development of radiopharmaceuticals, which are radioactive-labelled substances that upon injection into the body show the targeted organs for medical purposes. Later, the life brought him to his current place of work – the University of Veterinary Medicine and Pharmacy in Košice, where he found a self-realisation in the study of viruses infecting farm animals and wildlife. His first one-year internship at the Moredun Resarch Institute in Edinburgh, between 1992 and 1993, definitely confirmed the scientific direction of his career. The current scientific focus of prof. Štefan Vilček is not purely chemical research, but it includes the study of viral genomes that he has been dealing with on a long term basis, and that requires an interdisciplinary approach, including chemical disciplines.
In case of virus genomes research and molecular diagnostics, we can see on the time axis in the last 30-40 years an obvious change in the progress of research laboratories, as regards not only their equipment, but also the sharing of information and the research results. Prof. Štefan Vilček states: "In the 1980's, we worked with outdated instrumentation, which was very difficult to re-vamp. The planned purchase of chemicals was cumbersome and once ordered, they were delivered after several months. The computer technology necessary for the rapid development of research was scarcely available. The access to foreign scientific literature was also very limited and the situation began improving only some time later. It was the EU funds that enabled a significant acceleration of this development, as we could modernise laboratory equipment, including ours, to the level of developed European laboratories. The ordering of chemicals is more flexible and shorter, and the use of IT is now available to any lab personnel, including online access to scientific literature. Traveling to foreign laboratories and conferences has become commonplace, just like the international cooperation and applying for foreign grants. All this, however, can only be effectively capitalised upon, when there is no shortage of passion for scientific work, which is generally brought by young blood. Given the significant financial undervaluation of researchers in Slovakia, we lag far behind the developed countries in this area. Research is not as attractive for young people as I would expect, which may be manifested in less effective use of newly acquired apparatus."
Nowadays, there is an impression among society that scientists are only greedy for further government grants for research, which is very difficult to comprehend and brings no tangible outcomes. It may be useful to point out that scientists always apply for funding, whether domestically or internationally, in the form of competition. Scientist's reputation plays a crucial role in this competition and it is measured by such parameters as publishing the results of research work in prestigious international scientific journals, citations in published scientific papers, patents, international acceptance of the researcher and others. It is therefore evident that personal commitment, initiative, and professional quality of researcher such as prof. Štefan Vilček, are qualities, which can significantly help in acquiring funds and grants for equipping laboratories and, ultimately, better assessment of workplace and school.
Current research of prof. Štefan Vilček
Currently, the research team of prof. Vilček is analysing the porcine enteric virus infections, which are viruses that cause diarrhea in animals. Considering the complexity of the problem, he utilises the latest molecular-genetic methods to detect and analyse the viral genome. He can then compare it with known viral genomes found in other laboratories in the world and identify its unique properties, or even discover new viruses. By this means, prof. Štefan Vilček managed to identify a unique viral isolates in Slovak Košice, which have not been known yet. He believes that further novel findings are yet to be discovered. These findings extend the general knowledge of the variability of viruses and help in developing better techniques for diagnosing viral animal diseases, as well as better knowledge of the epidemiological situation on the ground. Unique methods also enable finding the links between outbreaks of viral infection on farms and thus provide farmers with valuable information in an effective fight against animal diseases. Comprehensive knowledge of the virome (i.e. all viruses), both known and unknown, in the digestive tract of pigs and their role in healthy and diseased animals is a great scientific challenge and prof. Vilček plans to work on it in the coming years.
According to prof. Vilček, high quality equipment in laboratories and adequate funding are necessary, but not sufficient conditions for cutting-edge research. The most important factor is the human potential, personal commitment at work, healthy enthusiasm, and objective and critical analysis of experiments' results. Here, a personal example is irreplaceable. Enthusiastic and adept scientist naturally stimulates the interest of young scientists for research with his/her approach to scientific work. Figuratively speaking, only the one who burns with passion for science can ignite the flame of desire for knowledge.
Traveling and photography
Prof. Štefan Vilček has been close to nature and traveling since early childhood. After traveling through Slovakia and after covering all major mountain ranges, he headed to the mountains of Romania and former Yugoslavia. As the world has been opening, he has been fulfilling his traveler's dreams from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, from Iceland via Japan, India to New Zealand. He travelled the world alone, with minimal expenditures, in order to better feel the atmosphere of new places. In recent years, he has been focusing on photographing birds. This hobby also fulfils him personally and given the fact that birds may be also infected by viruses, it is likely that his passion will connect with his professional work in the future. In fact, first such scientific work has already come into existence, when together with his PhD students, he published a modern test for the detection of many influenza virus isolates infecting birds and mammals.
The Award for Science and Technology has been awarded since 2014, replacing the Award of the Minister of Education, Science, Research and Sport of the Slovak Republic. The objective of this transformation is to increase the social prestige of the awards for science and technology.
Please visit the event's website Week of Science and Technology in Slovakia (only Slovak version) to find the list of all awarded in the individual categories, or see the e-newspapers Scientific kaleidoscope.
The main organiser of the Week of Science and Technology in Slovakia is the Ministry of Education, Science, Research and Sport of the Slovak Republic in cooperation with the Slovak Centre of Scientific and Technical Information and the National Centre for the Popularisation of Science and Technology in Society. The general partner of the event is Huawei.
Information provided by: prof. Ing. Štefan Vilček, DrSc.
Edited by: Barbora Hrvolová, NCP S&T within the SCSTI
Intro photo: from the archive of prof. Štefan Vilček
Photo: Ján Laštinec, NCP S&T within the SCSTI
Published by: ZVČ
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