Michael Rieger is a professor in stem cell biology at the Goethe University Frankfurt, Department of Medicine, Hematology/Oncology. He has been a member of ISEH for 10 years and within the field of experimental hematology for 15 years with a focus on normal hematopoiesis, stem cells, and acute leukemia. Michael is the current chair of the local organizing committee for the 46th ISEH Annual Scientific Meeting in Frankfurt, Germany.
Can you describe your lab or work environment?
My research group is located at the University Hospital Frankfurt, working on normal and malignant hematopoietic stem cell biology and targeted therapies of acute leukemias.
How did you find your way to the hematology and stem cells scientific field?
I was trained as a tumor immunologist during my studies and my PhD, before I moved into the hematopoietic stem cell field. As you can see I was always fascinated by blood cell functions, and I was certain to pursue my postdoctoral studies working on blood cells. Timm Schroeder, my former postdoc mentor, drew my interest to hematopoiesis, and he also introduced me to ISEH. Now my focus has shifted towards stem cell functions and fate choices, also in other tissues. The hematopoietic system is a wonderful model system to ask basic and applied questions on adult stem cell behavior.
How are you helping to mentor new investigators at your lab/facility?
Enthusiasm for science is the most important driving force for innovation. I am living the fascination for basic research in the hope to influence and “infect” my young colleagues with this contagious passion. I share my experience in this field, and I try to educate them how to become an accurate, reliable, trustworthy and smart researcher, which are probably the most important qualities for a scientist. The consideration of the medical need in asking timely questions in stem cell and cancer biology helps to focus on the most relevant topics.
There are a lot of interesting aspects of this scientific field; what do you find the most exciting?
The enormous regenerative potential of stem cells is fascinating. Generating the required cell types at right quantity and quality during homeostasis, and reacting highly plastic in cases when needed, are exciting features of stem cell-driven tissue organization. The sum of individual cell behavior finally results in the required output at population level. Cellular heterogeneity and behavior at single stem cell level, and the technologies that allow these studies nowadays, are intriguing for me. Understanding these heterogeneities will help to rationally manipulate the system for regenerative medicine and cancer treatment.
What do you consider the biggest challenge currently facing the hematology and stem cells scientific field and how can it be managed?
One of the long-term goals is the ability to indefinite culture and expand blood stem cells ex vivo, for regenerative medicine. This ability would overcome many logistic and medical hurdles in finding a matching donor for stem cell transplantations, and would foster gene therapy approaches. Many researchers believe that the complexity of the bone marrow environment providing the suitable niche for stem cells may not be recapitulated in vitro. However, I am convinced that we have not yet found the critical signaling pathways at the right dosage and timing that are required for blood stem cell culture, as was achieved for embryonic stem cells many years ago. Understanding the molecular control of stemness will provide the basis for rational approaches to maintain blood stem cells in culture for improved medical purposes.
What do you find most valuable about ISEH?
ISEH is a scientific society with long history and loyal members, and many leaders in the field have belonged to ISEH for decades. The networking opportunities at the annual meeting but also during the whole year are of great value. The work of the New Investigator Committee is fantastic; especially for young scientists starting up in the field and also moving into ISEH. They organize educational sessions at the annual meeting and broadcast webinars providing guidance for professional and social skills. The constant exchange between the New Investigator Committee and the Board of Directors provides young ISEH members a strong influence in decision making.
Why do you attend the ISEH Annual Scientific Meeting?
The ISEH Annual Scientific Meeting is a fixed event in my meeting calendar. The meeting brings together latest breaking science from world-leading experts with an intimate and relaxed atmosphere. These are probably the reasons why so many colleagues always come back year by year. Going to the conference is almost like meeting old friends. The driving force of the success of the meeting is the maintenance of a high scientific standard over decades.
What is your favorite ISEH Annual Scientific Meeting memory?
I have a lot of good memories to different ISEH meetings. Especially the evenings of the New Investigator Mixer remained in good memories (as far as I remember…)
What are your favorite hobbies? Hobbies? I have small kids…
What is your favorite book? The Lord of the Rings
What is your favorite movie? La Vita è Bella (Life Is Beautiful)
If you could meet one person (dead or alive) who would it be and why? John Cleese. Is he really that funny?
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