Dr Arkadiusz Sitek has been appointed the President of the Management Board and Director of Sano – Centre for Computational Medicine in Krakow since the beginning of 2021. From the 1990s, he developed a scientific career at Canadian and American universities, institutes, in an international companies and corporations. After more than a quarter of a century, he decided to return to Poland, to create Sano – Centre for Computational Medicine.
Why, after more than 25 years of your career overseas, have you decided to return to Poland?
The first reason is, of course, Sano. I really want this project to become something we can be proud of. I would like our scientific achievements to be noticed and appreciated in Europe and around the world. But I also want science to go hand in hand with an entrepreneurial, business approach. We want to see measurable effects in health care, facilitate the work of doctors and help patients. The second reason is more personal. I left Poland in the 1990s and although I found a second home in America, I am still a Pole in my heart. The longing for the country is an important piece of this puzzle. I would like my son, who was born in the USA, to learn about Polish culture and feel like a Pole too.
What happened, that you left Poland?
When I graduated from physics at the University of Warsaw, Poland was in an eye of dynamic changes – political, economical, social. Because of the economical changes, it was not easy to make a career in science. Many of my university colleagues made careers in completely different fields – in banking, on the stock exchange. And that being a physicist by profession. I decided to go to Canada, where my parents emigrated earlier. But at that time, I didn’t have any specific scientific plans yet.
So where does your interest in physics come from?
I have always felt good in science and my parents decided that I should study this field. In the mid-1980s, I entered the PAX High School in Warsaw, which had a mathematics and physics profile. It was a male boarding school. Before that, I lived with my parents in a small village near Częstochowa. I had carefree, but busy childhood, which I recall very positive. My parents had large strawberry plantation and I often had to help them at work. It was a good school of life. Today, young people often have everything on their plates, and I think it’s good to know the value of physical work.
Was the USA any surprise to you in terms of completely different level of life?
No, I’ve been abroad before. I was shocked as a teenager when I was in Hungary and later in Greece. Various colors, a lot of goods, people crowds, it all stunned. America, in turn, captivated me with its landscapes and diversity. It is a beautiful continent, I have traveled across the United States several times, but there is a lot to see for me. Besides, I got to know many faces of America well, because I lived in different places. From the exclusive suburbs of big cities to the poor neighborhoods of Oakland, the most dangerous city in the US. The differences are everywhere, it all depends on where you end up. I liked the west coast near San Francisco the most, it’s the most beautiful there.
And yet, we are talking in Poland.
It is also beautiful. When I came to Krakow, I slept the first night, and the next day I went out onto the street, it felt like I’d never left here.
Sano is located in the Centrum Energetyki at AGH, the office is spacious, but there are more and more people.
It makes me happy because our success depends on the people we manage to attract. Sano has secured the funding, established the foundation, now we need to grow. At this point, I am optimistic. We have six research teams, we employ scientists and doctoral students, we develop and initiate projects. Of course, it is not always downhill, because it is known that many promising Polish scientists go abroad. It is still easier to find a career in science there, than in Poland. But we are also trying to change this. I know that many young people want to do science at the highest level in Poland and we give them this opportunity.
Let’s say a little more about what Sano does.
Healthcare systems around the world have problems that, simplifying considerably, boil down to two issues – staff shortages and money shortages. That is why we personalize healthcare, which will make it easier for doctors to make decisions and eliminate unnecessary procedures and activities. Imagine a doctor who sees a patient for the first time. Thanks to personalization, they immediately know that for a specific person a certain drug will work and for another person it will not. The size of the data about each individual is enormous. Lots of it is important to your health. We create methods that analyze data and tell the doctor what comes out of it.
Such an extra brain to help you make up your mind?
Exactly. Besides, until now the patient-doctor interaction was similar – they both met in the room and talked. Covid changed that and I am convinced that remote healthcare will stay with us to a greater or lesser extent. This is the field for artificial intelligence. And finally, a very important aspect – Personal Health. In short, the best care is when patients do not get sick. And they don’t get sick, or they get sick less when they know what to do. And we create systems that are to provide this knowledge.