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Meet Karin Klauke - New Investigator Award Winner 2013

Posted By Connections Editor, Friday, November 01, 2013
Updated: Monday, October 28, 2013

Karin Klauke is a PhD candidate working in the Laboratory of Ageing Biology and Stem Cells at the European Research Institute for the Biology of Ageing, a part of the University Medical Centre Groningen in the Netherlands. She has been in the stem cell research field for 6 years, and an ISEH member for 5 years. She first joined ISEH when her supervisor Gerald de Haan suggested that she submit an abstract about her research to present at the ISEH meeting in Athens, Greece. Klauke was selected to make a presentation at the meeting, her first outside her laboratory.

Klauke enjoys attending the ISEH Annual Scientific meeting for the networking opportunities they offer for young scientists to interact with PI’s. She also values the opportunity that the ISEH meetings present for staying up to date with new research in her field.

Klauke kindly answered some questions for ISEH.

Tell us about your graduate education and the experience of being a graduate student.

I started University in 2001, and studied Biology in Groningen. In the first year we had to take all kinds of Biology courses including courses like Ecology, which did not interest me much. After the first year we could specialize in a few fields, and I chose Molecular and Medical Biology.

Who has most influenced you to become a scientist, and how did they influence you?

There is no particular person in my life that influenced me to become a scientist, although as a child, I was always fascinated by the story of the apple that fell from the tree that gave Isaac Newton the first clue about the existence of gravity. I didn’t think much about ‘becoming a scientist’ until I started thinking about going to University. In high school I always liked my science classes and did well in them.

My mother always tells me that as a young child, I could study small objects (like insects) for a long time. So I was just curious about everything.

How did you find your way to the hematology and stem cells fields?

During University I enjoyed these classes the most. Lectures about stem cells and their ability to reconstitute damaged tissue inspired me. Stem cells are really important for life, and hold great promise for regenerative medicine.

What is the overall aim of your research?

I just finished my PhD thesis on ‘epigenetic regulation of normal and malignant hematopoiesis.’ I will defend it on October 23.

Epigenetic mechanisms help to maintain the characteristic gene expression profile of stem cells, or to drive changes in gene expression that accompany the transition from hematopoietic stem cells to terminally differentiated blood cells. Our aim is to further our fundamental understanding of the epigenetic machinery that distinguishes hematopoietic stem cell self-renewal divisions from differentiation divisions. I studied Polycomb proteins that function in large Polycomb complexes, termed Polycomb Repressive Complex 1 and 2. Polycomb complexes can be constitutionally distinct and functionally complex, since for every core protein subunit, different family members exist that compete for incorporation. Our most intriguing result is that we showed that the composition of the Polycomb Repressive Complex 1 balances HSC self-renewal and differentiation (Klauke et al., Nat. Cell Biol 2013).

Tell us a little about the subject of your presentation.

One of the most important matters in understanding leukemic progression is to determine the nature and number of different leukemic stem cells (LSCs) and their clonal offspring within an individual cancer. Previously, we have shown that the Polycomb PRC1 member Cbx7 causes a spectrum of distinct leukemic types (immature, lymphoid or erythroid) after overexpression in bone marrow cells (Klauke et al, Nat. Cell Biol., 2013). By implementation of a barcoded retroviral Cbx7 expression vector, we generated a mouse model in which Cbx7 overexpression serves as the initial leukemic ‘hit’ and every pre-LSC is uniquely labelled.

In the presentation, I showed that the clonal organisation of leukemia can be more complex than previously anticipated. For example, we showed that the coexistence of different LSC clones with different properties in one leukemia is not uncommon, and we provided direct evidence of the quiescent nature of LSCs.

What's the biggest challenge you've ever faced in your research?

I am a young researcher and I am only just starting my career. For me, the biggest challenge is, and always will be, to balance my work and personal life. As a PhD student, you have very busy periods, when it is often necessary to work around the clock.

However, doing ‘social’ things with my boyfriend, family and friends also gives me new energy that I can put back into my work. So my work will also benefit when I take some time off. But, when I have important deadlines this can be hard to remember.

What are you working on most intensely right now?

Currently, I’m mostly focusing on finishing my PhD and preparing for the defense. After that, my goal is to get the work that I presented at ISEH published.

In your field, what do you hope we will know in five or 10 years that we don’t know now?

Stem cells can be modified by gene therapy for use in regenerative medicine. However, gene transfer has to be safe. In addition, the use of regenerative medicine relies on a proper understanding of the pathways involved in stem cells. I hope in the next 10 years, regenerative medicine will transition from a research promise to clinical reality.

Who is your most influential senior investigator mentor and how did he or she help you?

That will be my boss/professor, Gerald de Haan. His door is always open to discuss new plans and results. He maintains an excellent balance between giving freedom to young scientists and giving them guidance on their PhD project. He also gives me a taste of the politics behind science every now and then, which is important when you want to continue your career in science. You need to know where the money is, how to get it, and whom you need to know.

What are your future career plans?

I am not certain, but I like science, helping in the lab, and teaching. It is a good career because you are your own boss in many respects, and usually your work schedule is pretty flexible, although in general you have to work hard.

My next step will be to apply for my own funding and create my own ‘scientific niche.’

What general advice would you give a young person considering a career in science?

Be curious and work together. Scientists become scientists because they are fundamentally curious about how things work. In science, you are not going to be in a laboratory all by yourself with no one to talk to. Take all opportunities to teach, speak, interact, and collaborate. Working together makes better science.

What are the results of a scientific career that makes it worthwhile and exciting?

The thing that I like most is that you can be completely creative. You think of an idea, you propose a hypothesis, you design the experiments and you analyze that data. Sometimes you’re right and sometimes you’re wrong. Even when your hypothesis is proven wrong, you have learned a lot.

What is your favorite ISEH Annual Scientific Meeting memory?

I really enjoyed the boat trip at the Vancouver meeting.

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