18 September 2023
Dr. Balázs Zoltán Zsidó was born in Dunaújváros, which is also where he attended secondary school. He is now 27, adjunct at the Pharmacology and Pharmacotherapy Department, Pharmacoinformatics Unit. He graduated the Faculty of Pharmacy in 2019, and was a PhD student of the Medical School until 2022. As an educator, he hosts lectures and seminars at the Medical School, Faculty of Pharmacy and Faculty of Health Sciences, conducts exams and is an advisor for thesis and undergraduate research work. He has presented at numerous local and international conferences and has D1 and Q1 rated publications, including 8 where he is the first author. He has been granted various awards, including the Excellent Young Pharmacist PhD Student in 2022, given to exceptional pharmacists. he is conducting with research under the supervision of dr. Csaba Hetényi at the Pharmacoinformatics Unit. Since this is a field with few people in it, his presentations are highly popular both locally and abroad, generating various collaborations. He is conducting computer studies related to COVID-19, and researches the working mechanism of the TRPA1 receptor, which gained spotlight in relation with the 2021 medical Nobel-prize.
written by Rita Schweier
“Making the decision about what one wants to do in the next forty years at age 16 is very difficult, and I felt that way too. Pharmacy was something I was interested in, because it requires knowledge of biology, chemistry, law and economics, and I already had an interest in healthcare and helping people. I was astonished by how taking a pill can make a headache go away. I was also interested in the process of how medication gets to the targeted organ, how it knows what it needs to affect, and what exactly happens until the desired effect is reached” – he explains.
Balázs Zsidó was immediately accepted into the UP Faculty of Pharmacy. He applied to Pécs because his brother was also a student here, he was granted a degree in Psychology here and started research at the UP Faculty of Humanities. As he explained, he fell in love with the city quickly, because it is accepting, familiar and the distances are manageable. He also liked the atmosphere at the faculty, because it is not too big, and teachers and students can get to know each other. He really enjoyed pharmacology, which is why he started the PhD training. Since most topics at the Faculty of Pharmacy included experiments, he spent a lot of time in the lab, therefore he decided to try something else. Based on his brother’s advice, he chose a supervisor instead of a topic in the person of dr. Csaba Hetényi, docent and head of department, who had a free spot for a PhD student.
“I am still fascinated by how chemicals can do anything to a body. Some make us fall asleep, others can make our blood pressure increase or decrease. How and why this happens is very exciting. We are trying to observe and recreate what nature has already created, based on the laws of physics and chemistry. We are focusing on how to reproduce results with a computer based on a previously conducted experiment. If we are successful, then following the methodology, we can come up with results that were not previously achieved with experiments, therefore we take part in many methodology developments” – he explains.
The topic of his PhD work was the development and application of computer-assisted drug design. In the beginning, he dealt with epigenetic examinations, researching the interactions of proteins and peptides. They tried to find a topic with his supervisor that showed challenges in physics and chemistry. As an example he mentions that peptides are quite large molecules that like to move and bend, making it hard to connect them with their protein target – they started to develop a method for this. Among his research is the development of several medications that are effective not only against SARS-CoV-2, but against other viruses as well. They are trying to find a target within the virus that is possibly present in multiple viruses with little variation. They looked for a leading molecule for this target that can be transformed later.
“We started by testing the method on an available experimental system, on the influenza virus, to prove the efficacy of the system to ourselves. After that, we transferred the method to SARS-CoV-2, since there was no widely available experimental data about it. In the National Virology Laboratory they decided that molecules are efficient in cellular experiments, therefore we could start transforming them in order to ensure a higher efficacy with the virus protein, stopping the division process of the virus. Right now, these new chemical compounds are being synthetized in Szeged. Once done, another test will come” – he elaborates.
Dr. Balázs Zsidó and his co-workers are thinking on an atomic level, they are looking at which atom of which amino acid is in connection with which molecule, and how it can be transformed to ensure that the connection becomes stronger in just that location. They are trying to – with applying the right methodology – provide information that is not available from experiments.
He also participates in research related to the inflammation and pain of TRPA1 and somatostatin receptors, and pharmacokinetic interactions: he deals with the interactions of two types of medications with each other, and the interaction of medication and proteins in the human body. he Has multiple shared publications with the research group of dr. Erika Pintér in the first topic, and with the Faculty of Pharmacy about the second.
As he says, computer-assisted drug design requires both in-deth knowledge of physical and chemical laws, and IT. For the latter, he had the advantage of an IT teacher father. He has to be able to write smaller softwares, and then use them to make his work easier – and then analyse and phrase the results in a way that is understandable. To his knowledge, few people deal with computer-assisted medication design in the university sphere.
“The most shocking part of the research is that when we discover one thing, ten more tasks appear. This is both the beauty and excitement of it. Of course, not getting the expected result is frustrating, but it is important to have humility – since nature is not the way we want to see it. If we strive to give out nice, honest and clean work, not sparing the time to do it, sooner or later luck will be on our side” – he summarises.