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Polish researcher reflects on work at Roswell, his first year in Buffalo


Roswell Park Cancer Institute researcher Maciej L. Goniewicz, who grew up near Krakow, Poland, got more than he bargained for during his first Buffalo winter. (John Hickey/Buffalo News)

By Scott Scanlon – Refresh Editor

Maciej L. Goniewicz, a Polish-born research scientist who studies on the effects of e-cigarettes, lived near Krakow before he moved to London and San Francisco for research positions.

He arrived in Buffalo a year ago this month to take a job as a researcher at Roswell Park Cancer Institute.

“I’m more calm and relaxed here,” he told me last week, “and it’s easier to get to work – when it’s not snowing.”

Goniewicz – whose full name is pronounced Ma CHEY, Gon YA Vich – is featured in today’s “In the Field” story in WNY Refresh.

That piece focuses mostly on his professional life, but I also asked him how he’s adapted to life in arguably the most Polish-friendly community this side of the Atlantic. 

“I’m so busy at work, but I really enjoy it,” he said. “This is a great place. I feel like I found my place.

“Coming from outside here was challenging. It was a hard decision to move to Buffalo but I don’t regret it at all.”

Goniewicz lives in Allentown and walks to work; he hopes to get a driver’s license soon.

“I like to travel,” he said, “so the first year, especially before winter, I spent time getting familiar with the area. I’ve met new friends. I love traveling. I travel around Buffalo, but also a lot outside, partly for work, meetings. Also, for pleasure, to take a break from the crazy life” of a researcher.

He’s been to New York City, Washington, D.C. and Miami.

“Here in Buffalo,” he said, “I try to enjoy the city. I go to the theaters, I go to museums. I like the architecture. I’m trying to discover all the wineries. I’m a big fan of wines. I walk downtown, to the marina. I use buses, and the subway, too. I have a few friends and they take me shopping.

What are some of the foods he’s discovered and enjoys?

“Of course, from the very beginning, the chicken wings. I love chicken wings. I’m a big fan of Asian foods. I like the Elmwood Village, and every weekend, I try to go there and discover something new.” Taste of Siam, at 810 Elmwood Ave., is among his favorite stops. “The food is good here in Buffalo,” he said. “It’s great.”

Shortly after his arrival, he also attended Dyngus Day festivities on the East Side.

“It was so cold,” he said. “There was a snow storm when the parade started, so I was there for just a few minutes. But I liked it. It felt like home, my old home.”

His mother, Maria, a psychologist who works in family court in Poland, plans to visit Buffalo this summer. She wants to see New York, Washington, “and of course, Niagara Falls,” Goniewicz said. “All my friends who visit here want to see Niagara Falls. It’s huge, it’s amazing. It’s beautiful” – especially from the deck of the Maid of the Mist. “It’s much better. You can really feel the power and the size of the falls,” he said.

Here’s why studying electronic cigarettes over the next decade, and beyond, will be important, Goniewicz added: “We know that tobacco cigarettes cause cancer because this product was very popular a long time ago. So many people used this product. After 20, 30 years, we only discovered it was very dangerous. The big question with e-cigarettes is what will be the dangers after many years of using these products?”

Here are a few more things he told me about his work:

Anything in your personal history that made you interested in smoking research?

My parents never smoked, dad only occaisonally. My dad (Jerzy; it would be “George,” in English) is a doctor, an internist. But at college, I was really interested in chemistry. I was looking to study something that was between the medicine and the chemistry. That’s why I decided to study pharmacy. I was always interested in doing more the research than to going to the drugstore and dispensing the drugs.

Because e-cigarettes are still so new, they're not yet regulated and it’s hard to make any determination on their dangers or helpfulness? (See a related story on one danger here.)

That’s true. Users are asking us. Regulatory agencies are asking. I think we’re getting closer and closer. There’s so many unanswered questions. But when I started doing research on electronic cigarettes in 2010, we knew absolutely nothing about them. Now, I think we know what’s the effect. We now are looking at advertising campaigns and perception of the products.

People are using these products, so it’s getting more easy to study. We can advertise for people to help us with the research and right now we have no problems with getting people.

How costly can it become and where do the research dollars come from?

It is very expensive. Depending on the aim and what we want to look for, we need a laboratory, we need sensitive equipment if we want to test the products. We need special machines that smoke the product in the lab. When we are doing research on human volunteers, we need to find the volunteers. We need to advertise. We are paying for the time they spend here. Then we collect the samples, so we need to staff to do that. Then we need a lab and equipment to analyze. For some studies we need only 100 people but for some studies we need thousands of people.

What is your recommendation to smokers?

The first is quit. Quit everything. Don’t smoke. Don’t use any smokeless tobacco products. Don’t use any e-cigarettes. There are some safe products: gums, patches. They have been tested in many clinical trials and they work, at least for some people. They’re maybe not as effective as we’d like them to be. They have some limitations. Some smokers quit with these products. We have some prescription drugs that can help smokers quit. There are some precautions. Not everyone can use these drugs, but they are effective.

But for some who have really struggled and who are not going to do anything, are e-cigarettes worth at least a start?

If you tried quitting and you failed, try electronic cigarettes. As long as it helps you stay away from tobacco cigarettes, it’s a good idea. There’s nothing worse than tobacco cigarettes. We cannot guarantee that this product is safe, but research studies show that it’s safer than tobacco cigarettes.


Twitter: @BNrefresh

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