History of CLIP
Once upon a time, in the early 1990’s, in what was then Czechoslovakia, no one studied the molecular genetic and immunological aspects of childhood leukaemias with anything like the attention it deserved. In 1992, ayoung physician at the 2nd Paediatric Clinic of the 2nd Faculty Of Medicine by the name of Jan Trka enrolled in the PhD programme. Together with his supervisor Dr. Haškovec from the Institute Of Haematology And Blood Transfusion, they prepared a project whose focus was detection of the fundamental (as known at the time) fusion genes in childhood ALL. A major step forward was Trka’s stay in 1994 at Vienna’s Children’s Cancer Research Institute, in the laboratory of prof. Lion. In order to introduce the new ALL BFM-95 treatment protocol, it was necessary to prospectively test all the new ALL children patients for the presence of the fusion genes BCR/ABL and MLL/AF4. It was by intervention of Prof. Starý, then head of the Haematology dept. 2nd Paediatric Clinic, that a molecular-genetics lab, one that would provide diagnostics for all of the Czech Republic, was finally established in 1995. Other than Trka, the personnel consisted of a single lab technician named Anna Zvěřinová (married as Brabencová). They were relegated to a dusty storage room with two ancient fume cupboards, which they themselves cleared out, cleaned up and repainted. Thanks to a generous donation by Ms. Hladíková, they were able to purchase a refrigerated centrifuge, pipettes, electrophoreses and, of course, the crown gem: the PE 9600 cycler. The goal was obviously to expand the molecular screening, but, more importantly still, to start detecting residual disease using quantification of immunoreceptor gene rearrangements. The year 1996 saw the arrival of the lab’s first PhD student Jan Zuna. At the same time, Markéta Kalinová, formerly of the Institute Of Haematology And Blood Transfusion, joins the team, followed a year later by Kateřina Mužíková from the Motol hospital’s haematology department. Thus began the lab’s Golden Age, so to speak. Those old enough to remember now wax sentimental over the old ways – the non-radioactive dot blots or the manual sequencing by silver staining… In 2000, after a prolonged tender, the donation from the Kapka naděje foundation enabled the lab to purchase the first real-time cycler in the Czech Republic, ushering in the era of quantitative PCR. Simultaneously, an embryonic form of a cytometry haematology group evolves at the hospital’s Dept. of Immunology. Having obtained his PhD from immunology at SUNY, Brooklyn, Ondřej Hrušák returned to his alma mater and, after several years’ stint at the Paediatric Oncology Clinic, he started putting together a cytometry group with a focus on childhood blood disorders. Alongside him, the other researcher doing cytometry at the time was his department colleague Andrea Zavacká (married as Poloučková). The years 1997-98 see Trka at theUniversity ofBristol, at the time one of the leading institutions where residual disease was studied. In1998, a world of possibilities opens for the lab as they move to what is now their home in the new Paediatric Oncology building. They start off as humble guests with just one lab-room and a single office, but soon enough they expand into all of the still unoccupied space in the building.
The two labs publish together their first paper in1998 in Leukaemia; it documents the specific age distribution of new childhood ALL cases with TEL/AML1 rearrangement (nowadays known as ETV6/RUNX1). This fusion, first described in 1995-96, remained for a long time an important research topic for both labs.
Connected by both their focus on childhood blood cancers and by personal friendships, the two labs have from the outset cooperated very closely. As they fall under different departments and thus lack a common affiliation, the founding fathers Trka, Hrušák and Zuna come up with a name. From now on, the group shall be known as CLIP, short for Childhood Leukaemia Investigation Prague. A logo is designed by Trka. Though now baptised, the group remains informal by nature, leading to a number of rough patches with the department, faculty and hospital administrations. But the disagreements were soon sorted out and CLIP soon becomes a household name when it comes to research and referential diagnostics of childhood leukaemias in the Czech Republic, known both nationally and internationally. For the first time, the CLIP affiliation appears in an abstract at a conference on MRD in Marseille (as published in Leukemia, 2001); it appears in a regular article in the same journal a year later. At the turn of the century, other key people join the lab, all of them as PhD students; in 1999, Ondřej Krejčí, who had visited the lab regularly already as a medical student, joins the genetic section. With him comes Jozef Madžo (although apparently it should have been his girlfriend). In 2000, the cytometry section gets Tomáš Kalina, and, two years later, Ester Mejstříková – both spent time here as medical students. Also in 2002 came the Science Faculty graduate Martina Virtová (married as Vášková). The founder generation (as arbitrarily defined by yours truly), also includes Júlia Starková (2001) and Eva Froňková (2002), both geneticists, and Leona Řezníčková (2003) from the diagnostic section.
In 2003, with the merging of the Haematology dept. and the Transplantation Unit of the 2nd Paediatric Clinic with the Paediatric Oncology Clinic, a new clinic comes into existence – The Clinic Of Paediatric Haematology And Oncology. Serving as the new clinic’s head is Prof. Jan Starý, whose unswerving support for research and modern diagnostics has made him a moving spirit behind many a CLIP’s activity, even though he has never been an official member of the group. Jan Trka becomes the head of the clinic’s newly constituted Laboratory Centre. The (yet) latest upheaval comes in 2006 – whilst Ondřej Hrušák is elected Dean of the faculty, the cytometry section promptly leaves the Dept. of Immunology for the Clinic Of Paediatric Haematology And Oncology. The cytometrists then purchase equipment with the research grant money, as well as with the support of the Kapka naděje foundation. With the advent of new treatment protocols based on stratifying the patients by means of residual disease, the amount of diagnostics done is greatly expanded. As the numbers of students and researchers grow, so does the number of research projects, grants and memberships in international consortia, such as EuroMRD or EuroFlow (of both of which CLIP is a founding member). More on the present can be learned in the Projects section of the website.