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Meet ISEH Member David Kent

Posted By Connections Editor, Friday, February 19, 2016

 

Dr. David Kent, Ph.D., is a principal investigator in the Department of Haematology at the University of Cambridge focusing on Single Cell Fate Choid in Normal and Malignant Stem Cells. He has been working in the hematology and stem cells scientific field for 11 years and has been a member of ISEH for 9 of those years. Dr. Kent also serves as the Stem Cell Institute’s Public Engagement Champion. He created and authored The Black Hole a website and blog for education and training of scientist. Dr. Kent kindly accepted Connection's invitation to participate in a Q&A session. Below he shares with us his most influential senior investigator, approach to mentoring, biggest challenge he sees facing the field and his experiences with ISEH

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


Connie Eaves – my PhD supervisor. From day one is was obvious that she was going to challenge the way I thought about science. She provided an incredible balance of motivation and freedom and had an uncanny ability to know when you needed boosting up or knocking down – both of which are extremely useful. I still regularly seek Connie’s advice and input in science and in life despite having left her lab 6 years ago.

How are you helping to mentor new investigators at your lab/facility?

I’ve just started my group, but I am trying to give people the freedom to develop their own projects and eventually take their ideas out on their own – I think the worst thing a young investigator can do is be protective over ideas in the lab. My approach is to get the lab to work as a team, if we succeed, then everyone benefits. To achieve this, every 3-4 lab meetings we have a general discussion about the big ideas in the field, whether we are positioned to ask particular questions as a group and how we can work together on projects to achieve our goals. I have regular appraisals with my group members to make sure their career is on track (for academic or otherwise!) and encourage them to be flexible in their thinking about science.

What is the most exciting study or project happening at your lab/facility?

We’ve recently started to link biological and molecular outcomes in single stem cells (Schulte et al., Exp Hem 2015 and Wilson et al., Cell Stem Cell 2015). While the technique of index-sorting has been around since the 1990s, the single cell functional and molecular assays have only recently been sufficiently advanced to be done on this scale. For stem cell biologists with defined single cell assays in any system, these datasets can now be linked meaning that we can assess a huge number of variables in a single experiment. I should also mention that Peggy Goodell was a catalyst for sending us down that path, underscoring the importance of being open to new ideas outside of your immediate experimental setup.

What do you consider the biggest challenge currently facing the hematology and stem cells scientific field and how can it be managed?

The pressure on young scientists is enormous and the way we educate and train needs to adapt in order to avoid scientific misconduct, to keep the best and brightest in scientific careers, and to ensure that we move science forward not backward. The career has become more important than the science in so many cases and this is really distressing. Institutions need to stop demonizing non-academic careers and hiring committees need to focus on the science and the candidate rather than the journal in which the work was published. Individuals need to ask themselves the question of whether they enjoy their work and not over-value the particular version of life success that has been put before them.

What advice do you have for new investigators entering this scientific field?


Science is a team sport and a group leader should have plenty of ideas to keep their lab going. Protecting a single idea or concept (especially when the postdoc or student may have contributed to its development) is just petty. Maybe I’m naïve and haven’t been hardened by bad experiences, but I’m optimistic that working together with former trainees is far more beneficial than drawing a line in the sand and standing on opposite sides (I still collaborate with my PhD and postdoc mentors). In the end, the public and/or charities have paid for most of the research and deserve to have us working toward common goals.

What do you find most valuable about ISEH?

It has such an active membership – the New Investigator Committee is extremely good (hat tip in particular to the current group of Teresa, Peter, Kena, Michael and co) and the leadership appears really receptive to new ideas. ISEH is a society that works in partnership with its members and it really comes through at the Annual Meeting.

Why do you attend the ISEH Annual Scientific Meeting?

It’s the right size and has a good balance of clinical/experimental work. It rotates across the world and captures a broad set of researchers as a result. Finally, it facilitates interaction between group leaders and trainees – an essential for knowledge transfer and a great place to find a postdoc opportunity!

What is your favorite ISEH Annual Scientific Meeting memory?

So tough to answer this – but I think one of the highlights has to be the boat ride in Hamburg 2007 – for me it was the first time I’d properly interacted with the European Hematology community and I met some excellent international colleagues (and my eventual postdoc supervisor).

Some fun facts about Dr. Kent:

  • His favorite hobbies include: Football (the European kind); squash; and trying to save science (the blogging)
  • Favorite book: Lord of the Flies, by William Goldin.
  • Favorite movie: Shawshank Redemption
  • If you could meet one person (dead or alive) who would it be and why? Martin Luther – breaking up something as powerful as the church is impressive…

 

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Meet a New Investigator Award Winner

Posted By Connections Editor, Monday, December 21, 2015

Diana Dou, is the 2015 winner of the ISEH New Investigator Award, given to the best presentation by a PhD student. Diana is a PhD candidate in the Molecular Biology Interdepartmental Doctoral Program at the University of California, Los Angeles. She did her undergraduate degree at the California Institute of Technology, receiving a Bachelor of Science with Honors (2010); Majors: Biology/ Business, Economics, and Management (BEM), Minor: English. She has been working in the field of hematology and stem cells for 4 years and her areas of expertise are lncRNAs, HOXA genes and HSC development. She joined ISEH 4 years ago.

Diana kindly participated in a Q&A session with Connections. Below she talks about her experience as a graduate student, her current projects, her excitement about science and research, and shares with us her secret for a balanced life.

Tell us about your graduate education. About the experience of being a graduate student.
Being a graduate student requires a lot of patience, determination, and optimism. It’s the first time where success and progress aren’t guaranteed, no matter how much I work and study. But, it’s also the most exciting—like when an experiment proves a hypothesis right and the pieces to the puzzle start to add up and make sense. I don’t know if anyone can really educate a graduate student other than to just throw one into lab and make him/her ask questions and try to figure out how to answer them until it just becomes natural. Reading papers is important, but that’s just background, like packing supplies before an expedition. The real experience comes from going out there, doing the experiments, optimizing those experiments, and letting the data take you on an adventure. Some days, it’s frustrating, some days, it’s exhilarating, but it’s never boring.

Who has most influenced you to become a scientist, and how did they influence you?
I love magic shows, but when I was a kid, no one would ever tell me how the tricks work. In fourth grade, our science teacher did this experiment called Elephant’s toothpaste and, with just a little dish soap and hydrogen peroxide, this huge green tube started foaming out of the beaker, like magic, but he answered all of my questions on how and why it worked and I was able to do the same “trick” by myself. A couple of years later, the same teacher assigned us a “Science Giants” project to present on famous researchers and I loved learning Rachel Carson’s story so much that I looked up everyone else’s assigned “Giants”, too. Learning about what they achieved in their lives was truly inspiring and I was impressed at how scientists got to design their own greatest adventures.

How did you find your way to the hematology and stem cells scientific field?
Well, I wanted to organize a stem cell panel when I was an undergrad at Caltech so I went to ask David Baltimore for advice. He not only agreed to be the moderator, he also insisted we invite Hanna Mikkola, who studies HSCs at nearby UCLA, as the academic voice on the panel. When I got to UCLA for graduate school, I went to listen to two of her post-doc fellows present on their very exciting projects. One of those projects was on the inability of hESC-derived HSPCs to self-renew and I e-mailed Hanna that afternoon to ask if I could rotate with her. Fortunately, she remembered me and I got my foot in the door.

What is the overall aim of your research?

The overall aim of my research project is to elucidate the involvement of the medial HOXA genes to human HSC self-renewal. I hope to establish the downstream targets of individual HOXA genes contributing to HSC self-renewal, determine the mechanisms involved in the induction of HOXA cluster expression, and assess the effects of inducing HOXA genes on HSC function to determine the extent to which HOXA genes impact HSC self-renewal. In the process, I hope to identify other pathways in addition to the HOXA genes that are important for inducing and maintaining human HSC self-renewal.

Tell us a little about the subject of your presentation.

My talk focused on the requirement of the medial HOXA gene expression in human HSC self-renewal. Our lab developed a two-step differentiation protocol that generates immunophenotypic HSCs from ESCs that can differentiate into multiple hematopoietic lineages and express adult beta-globin, but are unable to self-renew and engraft. From microarray analyses comparing HSPCs isolated from different stages of development, we identified the medial HOXA cluster genes as critical for HSPC self-renewal and find they are not present at the correct levels in ESC-derived HSPCs. We also showed that RA signaling is required as a key inducer of HOXA gene expression in the hemogenic endothelium and is defective in ESC-derived HSPCs. In summary, in the context of the developmental timeline, we were able to generate cells of the definitive HSPC lineage from pluripotent stem cells and identify two molecular barriers limiting their ability to self-renew.

What is the most exciting or intriguing result you’ve gotten so far?

I think the most intriguing result is that retinoic acid signaling can induce the HOXA cluster genes in hESC-derived hematopoietic cells, but it cannot maintain this expression once the treatment is removed. This is intriguing because, while it is a success in some regards, there is still something missing, which I hypothesize involves lncRNAs. Personally, that’s exciting because my other main project is with lncRNAs of the HOXA cluster. In addition, applying retinoic acid at different stages of development induces different HOXA genes. These results just reveal again how elegantly structured and complex these tightly regulated signals occur in development.

What's the biggest challenge you've ever faced in your research?
Every time I do an experiment for the first time, it’s automatically the most frustrating and difficult challenge I’ve ever faced in research up until the second I optimize it and actually get reliable results. So, my current biggest challenge is getting the 5’ RACE to work in the region I suspect lncRNA(s) involved in human HOXA regulation is located… Other than that, deciding what to do next is always hard—there are always so many options I wish I could do them all!

How do you balance between work and personal life?

Since many of my friends are also in research, those two aspects sometimes intersect. Of course, a 50-50 balance can never be achieved, because work is never truly finished in this career, as that would mean that every question in the universe has been successfully and definitively answered. To overcome this quandary of “never enough time” and maintain a personal life, I sleep much less than is recommended. It’s all about cost vs. value—and I am willing to sacrifice a few hours of sleep each night to pursue my research and make sure I have some fun outside of lab too.

What are you working on most intensely right now?

I’m working most intensely on understanding the best statistical tests to use on the data we’re putting in our paper right now. It’s confusing, but necessary, and consulting with a statistician really helps. Many scientists overlook the importance of statistics, but if we are to impart any significance on the results we collect, it is as critical to understand when and why a certain statistical test is used and its strengths and weaknesses as it is to understand the experiment itself. To do otherwise would be both unethical and misrepresent the data.

There are a lot of interesting aspects of this scientific field; what do you find the most exciting?
The possibilities right now are endless because the technology is finally catching up to what we want to do. From high-throughput sequencing that allows a whole genome view of RNA/DNA expression, histone marks, and accessibility, to CRISPR/Cas9 allowing us to neatly delete or insert a gene so specifically opens infinite doors from addressing basic molecular biology questions about how a gene fits into a pathway to the correction of diseases through gene therapy. It’s thrilling to see that what used to be theoretical is actually going into clinical trials (i.e., SCID) and know that’s just the beginning. Picking one is just impossible because tomorrow has finally become today.

In your field, what do you hope we will know in five or 10 years that we don’t know now?
The main reason our field exists is to help people, so, of course, I hope we figure out how to generate engraftable human HSCs in vitro so that anyone who needs a bone marrow transplant can get one. I hope we understand HSC development so well that we are able to provide a map that can pinpoint where individual mutations occur in every patient afflicted with a blood-based disease.

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

The most influential scientific mentor for me is Scott E. Fraser who was my undergraduate academic advisor at Caltech and still is a solid supporter even now that he is Provost at USC and I am a graduate student at UCLA. Scott is awesome. In my first quarter of college, we had a chat where I casually mentioned an interest in research. Before I left, he’d e-mailed five other professors and even offered me a stint in his own lab. Great mentors are able to see something in their students that they cannot see themselves and are able to give those students the confidence and training to outperform their own expectations. That is certainly true for Scott, who always nudged me to aim for more than I thought I could do and never told me I couldn’t do something, which is how I ended up graduating from Caltech with two majors and a minor while working in a lab, playing two NCAA sports, and organizing speaker events. To this day, he still takes time to respond to my e-mails when I have questions about imaging, which experts to consult, and career advice. I credit him for always believing in me and for making me believe in myself, and for encouraging me to find all of science, particularly the difficult questions, interesting. Most importantly, Scott helped me become fearless.

What are your future career plans?

I plan to continue in academic research. I haven’t decided on what field or lab I want to do post-doc training in because there are so many interesting topics, including, but not limited to lncRNAs, gut microbiota, and, of course stem cells of all types. I hope to have a lab of my own and start a company on the side so that what I find in the lab can reach outside the world of academics and everyone—including politicians—will see how important basic science research is.

What general advice would you give a young person considering a career in science?
Never stop asking questions and being amazed and don’t limit that curiosity only to your field of research. There’s no such thing as irrelevant if it inspires you or simply makes you marvel at how cool it is. It’s supposed to be fun, always. Even if experiments are not working, always go in with the optimism that the next one will work.

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

Everyone wants to change the world at some point in his/her life. Scientists do that every day by adding a bit of knowledge, lighting up a little bit of the dark frontiers with each question and experiment and finding. Even if the average person may never wonder how or why they breathe, bleed, grow, and live, those questions and answers are still universally relevant. Everything we do is so new that no one else has done it before and, when we get a bit of data that answers a question that affects everybody, in that moment of discovery the scientist is the only one in the entire world of billions who knows a secret fact of our universe.

How were you introduced to ISEH?

My PhD thesis advisor, Hanna Mikkola, is a long-time member. She brought me to ISEH 2012 right after I joined her lab so I could get a chance to present my research and also interact with the field of hematology.

What do you find most valuable about ISEH?

The best thing about ISEH is the small size that allows the meetings to be focused and members to easily network. There’s not only a true interest in developing young investigators’ careers, but the ability to actually act on that interest and further the advancement of students.

Why do you attend the ISEH Annual Scientific Meeting?

It’s the best place to get very focused and relevant feedback on my research. The professors are all easily approachable and seem more relaxed in this smaller meeting than others. Plus, the meeting is always held in a really cool city.

What is your favorite ISEH Annual Scientific Meeting memory?

I always like it when there’s dancing, especially if the DJ’s good. That’s the best part: seeing stiff PIs shed their coats and dignities to break it down.

What are your hobbies?

I play basketball, fence sabre, and run half-marathons regularly. I also like to follow the stock market, experiment with different recipes, and read non-biology articles when I can.

What are your favorite books?

A Farewell to Arms (Ernest Hemingway), The Nonexistent Knight (Italo Calvino), The Name of the Wind (Patrick Rothfuss)

What are your favorite movies?

Return of the Jedi, The Devil Wears Prada

If you could meet one person (dead or alive) who would it be and why?
This is a no-brainer. I would meet Pat Head Summitt, the Coach Emeritus of the University of Tennessee’s Women’s Basketball Team. She is not only the winningest coach in college basketball—men’s or women’s—she is also a pioneer, great mentor, and a true inspiration as a person. I had the fortune of growing up watching Coach Summitt’s teams dominate college basketball. At the time, I didn’t know anything about Title IX, or appreciate the significance of the `96 “Year of Woman” Olympics that came right in the middle of her three-peat championships, I just knew that the intimidating coach with orange blazers and laser eyes always came up with winning plays, her players were awesome and I wanted to be one of them. Even though science became a bigger draw and I was never that good at basketball, I continued to love watching the Lady Volunteers play and I did end up playing for the Caltech Women’s Basketball team. Even after her diagnosis and forced retirement with early onset Alzheimer’s in 2012, she continues to be the face of women’s basketball and has, as usual, conducted herself with superhuman courage and perseverance. Without Pat Summitt, girls in sports—and, indeed, confident girls ready to take on or over the world—would be much more of a rarity and I would certainly not be the person I am today.

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Meet a New Investigator Award Winner

Posted By Connections Editor, Friday, November 6, 2015
Updated: Thursday, November 5, 2015

Bastien Gerby, PhD, is the 2015 winner of the ISEH New Investigator Award, given to the best presentation by a post-doctoral fellow. Dr. Gerby is a trainee in Dr. Trang Hoang’s lab at the Institute for Research in Immunology and Cancerology (IRIC), in Montreal, Canada. He has been working in the field of hematology and stem cells for 9 years and his areas of expertise are T-acute lymphoblastic leukemia, leukemic stem cells, oncogene reprograming and genetic mouse models. He joined ISEH one year ago. 

Dr. Gerby kindly participate in a Q&A session with Connections. Below he talks about his post-doc experience, his current projects, his future goals and shares with us his secret to balance work and family as a young father.

Tell us about your post-graduate education, generally. About the experience of being a post-graduate fellow.
My experience as a post-graduate fellow in Dr. Hoang’s group has given me an excellent opportunity to enrich my understanding of the fundamental mechanisms that govern the development of cancer, and to develop strong expertise in translational research for the identification of new drugs, together with project management skills and supervisory experience. Within the lab, I enjoy interacting with graduate students and post doctoral fellows working in stem cell biology, genomics, bio-statistics and mouse models. In addition, at the IRIC I benefit from a multidisciplinary scientific environment with privileged access to state-of-the-art technological facilities for the advancement of my projects. I believe that this post-doctoral experience is significantly increasing my knowledge of and my skills in cancer research.

Who has most influenced you to become a scientist, and how did they influence you?
The person who influenced me to become a scientist is my PhD supervisor, Dr. Françoise Pflumio. During my thesis, Dr. Pflumio transferred to me invaluable fundamental knowledge about hematopoiesis, leukemopoeisis, the concept of stem cell and the process of clonal evolution. In her laboratory I developed my skills in the use of xenograft models to understand the cellular and molecular heterogeneity of the leukemic stem cells from patients. Dr. Pflumio gave me the opportunity to build up several collaborations and allowed me to participate in many national and international meetings and workshops. Her belief on me and her support definitely influenced me to become a scientist.

How did you find your way to the hematology and stem cells scientific field?
I found my way to the field nine years ago, when I started my PhD with Dr. Pflumio at the Cochin Institute of Paris. The department of hematology of the Cochin Institute hosts many renowned hematologists and researchers, and therefore, gave me an optimal environment to start my projects and develop my skills in hematology. The close collaborations and discussions that I had with clinicians also confirmed my interest to work on hematological malignancies.

What is the overall aim of your research?
Current chemotherapy efficiently reduces the bulk of the tumor but fails to kill pre-leukemic stem cells (pre-LSCs) that can maintain the disease and cause relapse. Treatment is also limited by toxicity towards normal hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs). Therefore, the overall aim of my research is to find a new drug targeting specifically the pre-LSCs without affecting normal HSC functions.

Tell us a little about the subject of your presentation.
Using transgenic mouse models that reproduce the natural history of the human disease, I recently found that two human oncogenic transcription factors activate a self-renewal program that converts committed thymocyte progenitors into aberrant self-renewing pre-LSCs. Murine pre-LSCs represent a reliable and unlimited source of cellular targets to screen for small compounds that inhibit their survival and/or proliferation in a high throughput screening (HTS) format. I, therefore, designed an organotypic cell-based assay with a multiparametric read-out to conduct a small molecule screen targeting primary pre-LSCs. This distinctive strategy compared to previous screens using established cell lines, led to the identification of 2-methoxyestradiol, which inhibits pre-LSC viability and self-renewal activity and remarkably spares normal hematopoietic stem cells. Together, I proposed in my presentation that targeting pre-LSCs in a niche-like microenvironment is the right approach to find new promising leukemia treatment.

What is the most exciting or intriguing result you’ve gotten so far?
Leukemia development is a multi-step process characterized by the acquisition of diverse genetic alterations. In addition, the clonal evolution and selection processes add a level of complexity to the understanding of the disease. The most exciting results that I had so far was to demonstrate how a first oncogenic event can reprogram a normal committed progenitor into a self-renewing pre-LSC through the reactivation of a stem cell gene program. This observation is critical to understand what happens at the pre-leukemic stage before malignant transformation. Furthermore, the identification of an unrestricted source of pre-LSCs opened new ways of investigation to find targeted therapy.

What's the biggest challenge you've ever faced in your research?
First, the major challenge is that pre-LSCs are very infrequent in patients and their identification can be revealed only using ultra-sensitive next generation sequencing. This issue rules out the possibility to develop chemical screen on human pre-LSCs. Second, pre-LSCs conserve their dependency for their microenvironment, where the activation of non-cell autonomous signaling pathways is critical to maintain their viability and their self-renewal activity. Therefore, my efforts focussed on solving these two issues. First, I chose to work on a mouse model expressing human oncogenes that closely reproduce the human disease. This allowed me to identify an unlimited source of pre-LSCs for drug screening since I showed that the mechanism governing self-renewal in murine pre-LSCs is conserved in the human disease. Second, I developed a robust protocol in which pre-LSCs are maintained on stromal cells, mimicking their natural microenvironment. I optimized and miniaturized this protocol for high-throughput screening of compounds targeting pre-LSCs.

How do you balance personal life and work?
Achieving work-family life balance is often a difficult process in our productivity-driven society. Especially, post-doctoral training is the critical period to build a scientific career and sometimes it require personal sacrifices. As a young father, I think that I have found a good balance between my family life and my work by making wise decisions on the most important matters at the right moments. Having a child helped me to set my priorities in my daily life. Moreover, the world of research gives me the chance to have a certain flexibility in my work schedule. I believe that working in scientific research together with a well-balanced personal life is definitely compatible.

What are you working on most intensely right now?
My work recently led to the identification of a new drug that efficiently inhibits pre-LSC activity with undetectable effect on normal HSC properties. My ongoing efforts right now is to understand, at the molecular level, this specificity towards pre-LSCs.

In your field, what do you hope we will know in five or 10 years that we don’t know now?
In the last decade, considerable effort has been devoted to understand the complexity of leukemogenesis. New powerful whole genome sequencing revealed an important patient-to-patient heterogeneity at the molecular level. I hope that in the next ten years, we will be able to establish an accurate and low-cost diagnosis for each patient and provide individual therapies. In addition, there are right now several cellular and molecular evidences that leukemia can be initiated by the reprogramming of an aberrant stem cell gene network in a committed progenitor leading to the emergence of self-renewing pre-LSCs. I hope that future therapies will target aberrant properties of pre-LSCs in order to prevent disease relapse and turn acute leukemias into diseases with good prognosis for the benefit of patients.

Who is your most influential senior investigator mentor and how did he or she help you?
My most influential senior investigator is my current mentor, Dr. Trang Hoang. I continued my scientific progression in Dr. Hoang’s laboratory in order to acquire new skills that were very complementary with my previous training. Dr. Hoang is a founding member of IRIC. My experience with her allows me to enrich my knowledge, in particular the concepts and practice of transcription regulation in hematopoietic cells and the power of genetic approaches through the use of transgenic mouse models reproducing human disease when combined with bio-imaging and drug screening. Dr. Hoang’s experience, her open-minded attitude and enthusiasm really stimulate me. Our everyday discussions help me to achieve my research aspirations and boost my level of motivation in performing research at its highest standards and prepare me for a career as an independent researcher.

What are your future career plans?
My plan is to obtain a set of unique multidisciplinary skills and a network of mentors and collaborators that will help me to develop my own research programs and progressively to become an independent investigator and group leader.

How were you introduced to ISEH?
During my PhD.

What do you find most valuable about ISEH?
The great variety of topics covered, the presence of world leading speakers, training sessions for young investigators, as well as the participation of graduate students and post-doctoral fellows with different scientific backgrounds.

Why do you attend the ISEH Annual Scientific Meeting?
I greatly benefit from attending the ISEH because my projects align perfectly with the research topics presented at the meeting. Moreover, interaction with other participants allowed me to create valuable network and develop collaborations. Finally, the presentation of my work gives me a visibility in the field and opens opportunities for my future career.

What is your favorite ISEH Annual Scientific Meeting memory?
Without doubt, this one!

Are you planning to continue as an ISEH member?
Yes

Would you like to be more involved with the society, for as a member of the New Investigator Committee?
In the future, I would be glad to be more involved with the society.

What are your hobbies?
Tennis, Guitar.

If you could meet one person (dead or alive) who would it be and why?
Axel Kahn is an eminent French geneticist well known for his popularization of science and his position statement about ethical questions in science such as the use of gene therapy, stem cell and cloning. He is the author of several published books that influenced my thoughts and I definitely would be glad to meet him.

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Meet ISEH Treasurer Jean-Pierre Levesque

Posted By Connections Editor, Monday, August 31, 2015
Updated: Tuesday, August 25, 2015
Jean-Pierre Levesque is an Associate Professor and Principal Research Fellow, as well as the Head of the Blood and Bone Diseases Program and of the Stem Cell Biology Group at Mater Medical Research Institute in South Brisbane, Australia. He obtained his Engineering Degree in Agronomics from the Institut National Agronimique De Paris-Grignon, and a PhD from Paris XI University in France in 1987. He subsequently joined the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in France. Dr. Levesque then moved to the Institute of Medical and Veterinary Sciences (Adelaide) in 1994, and to the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre (Melbourne) in 2000 to establish a new Hematopoietic Stem Cell Laboratory. In 2005, he moved to Brisbane and established a new Stem Cell group at Mater Research. In 2006 he was awarded a Senior Research Fellowship from the Cancer Council of Queensland, and then from the National Health and Medical Research Council in 2012.

Dr. Levesque has been in the hematology and stem cell field since 1983, when he started his PhD, and his area of expertise is hematopoietic stem cell and stem cell niche biology. He has been a continuous member of ISEH since 1999, and is currently a member of the Board of Directors, Chair of the Finance Committee, and ISEH's Treasurer.

Dr. Levesque kindly participated in a Q&A session with Connections. Below he shares with us
how he transitioned from agronomic engineering to hematology; his decision to continue his research career in Australia; the funding atmosphere in the country, and the rewards of being the Treasurer of ISEH.


How did you find your way to the hematology and stem cells scientific field?
I came to the hematology and stem cell biology field by chance. I was doing an Engineering degree in France in one of its Grandes Ecoles and I wanted to do a BSc in biochemistry. I visited a few labs to do a year training and I picked a lab working on hematopoiesis and hematopoietic stem cells. I was completely fascinated by the idea of making blood cells from bits of human bone marrow in a Petri dish with red jelly in it. So, I chose this lab and a project. I must have done alright as I was offered a PhD scholarship from the French government to continue.

Who has most influenced you to become a scientist, and how did they influence you?
In year 12 at school and during my subsequent studies of maths, physics, geology and life sciences, I was fascinated by Albert Einstein. I was fascinated by the mind of Einstein; to create the theory of relativity from scratch. A theory that unified mass, energy and time to understand the universe from galaxies to sub atom forces. I loved maths and physics but I was not good enough in maths to become a mathematician or physicist. I was also very interested in biology and medicine and fascinated by the Nobel Prizes of the time, about the first use of genetics, discoveries of peptide hormones and their receptors. At the time, I thought that science was an adventure and a discovery journey for the mind and that with science anything was possible.

Who is your most influential senior investigator mentor and how did he or she help you?
I think the most influential mentor was Paul Simmons (an ex-ISEH member). He encouraged me when I arrived in Australia and helped me through the Australian system. He was really supportive of my project to understand how cell adhesive interactions regulate stem cells and he made me realize that hematopoiesis has to be thought of in the context of its surroundings (the bone, the vasculature, and mature hematopoietic cells). He also taught me how to write a grant. I remember spending long evenings and nights articulating grants together. It was fun and I love the unleashing of creativity that writing a grant brings.

What is the overall aim of your research? What are you working on most intensely right now?
The overall aim of my research is to better understand how the hematopoietic system communicates with its surrounding within the bone marrow. If we can decipher how hematopoietic stem cells communicate with, and are regulated by the multiple components of their niche, this will open many possibilities. This includes being able to generate hematopoietic stem cells ex vivo for therapeutic uses (transplantation, genetic correction, etc). Also, I would like to understand how malignant cells pervert the system to expand and resist treatments. Progress is being made in this latter area with therapies targeting the interactions between leukaemia stem cells and their protective niches.

We have several projects running on which we are working pretty hard. One is to better understand how the hypoxia sensing pathway regulates hematopoietic stem cells. The second is to better understand what macrophages really do in bone marrow niches. The third is a more recent project to understand the cellular and molecular mechanisms of heterotopic ossifications that develop in patients with spinal cord injuries.

What is the most exciting or intriguing result you’ve gotten so far?
As I said, we have a few exciting projects at the moment. But the most intriguing is our most recent one: why do muscles make ectopic bones following spinal cord injuries? This is a fascinating and unresolved stem cell biology question. This is not just exotic biology. Pathological heterotopic ossifications affect up to 25% patients with traumatic spinal cord injuries and the incidence is a lot worse in battle injuries, such as those from the Gulf War. Although this pathology has been known for 100 years, the etiology remains largely unknown and there is no treatment other than surgical resection once these ossifications are large to the point that they ankylose joints and entrap large vessels and nerves. It’s a fascinating biology question with an unmet clinical need! We have now managed to replicate this in mice, and this is giving new insights on the causes of this pathology.

What's the biggest challenge you've ever faced in your research?
To almost run out of funding for my research and myself. It almost happened 3 years ago, it made me very nervous but I was lucky. I got a research grant and a fellowship for myself just in time.

In your field, what do you hope we will know in 5 to 10 years that we don’t know now?
Will we understand the plasticity and fate decision of stem cells in vivo? Will we be able to replicate this in vitro in order to “fabricate” tissues ex-vivo? Will we understand why leukemia stem cells are resistant to chemotherapies and will we discover ways to overcome this resistance to cure diseases such as AML? I don’t know. I can’t read the future, but I hope we will have made significant progresses in these areas.

Instead of an academic career, did you consider a career in industry and why?
I have never really considered anything other than an academic career. I like the freedom of conceiving new ideas and testing them in the lab too much. This being said, I do have collaborations with a couple of biotechs. Some of my projects are very translational, so we work in partnership with these biotechs to develop patents and test their compounds for the potential applications.

Why did you choose to work in Australia?
After completing my PhD in France, I wanted a change of horizon in my life, with large uncrowded space and the freedom to work on my own research ideas. I chose Australia for a sabbatical, first because it was the furthest it could be from France, with large wild spaces and a long tradition in experimental hematology. CSFs and colony assays were discovered there after all! I was lucky to be given the chance to develop my career in Australia and I never went back (I do miss the smelly cheeses though).

What is the situation of funding for research in Australia? Can you compare it with the US and EU countries?
The funding situation in Australia is as bad as everywhere else. Federal funding for medical research has been going down year after year since 2010 with no improvement in perspective for the next few years. Success rate for medical research grants have halved compared to 2010 (currently 14% success rate). Lab heads also have to apply for research fellowships for our own salaries, and again success rates are going down. Now that Australian mining boom is over, perspectives are even dimmer with the success rate for grants projected to go down to 5.5%-10.5% in 2017. The problem we have in Australia is that: 1) we have very few large philanthropists like in the US and 2) we don’t have a supranational organization with deep pockets to fund science like the European Union. Although Australia is as big as the US, we are just 20 million people/citizens. As a consequence, financial resources to fund research are limited.

How were you introduced to ISEH?
I was introduced back in the very early 90s by my PhD supervisor. My first ISEH meeting was in Parma in 1992.

Why do you attend the ISEH Annual Scientific Meeting?
I regularly attend the meetings because the program is great, with fantastic invited speakers. The meeting is small enough to actually meet and talk with people. It’s a very good place to learn about developments outside of my own area of expertise. I have learned a lot at ISEH meetings. It’s also a good place to meet people to start collaborations, networking, exchanges of techniques, etc. Also, as a young French scientist living in Australia, it gave me an annual opportunity to get a bit closer to my family for a quick visit.

What is your favorite ISEH Annual Scientific Meeting memory?
I have lots of good ISEH meeting memories. Meeting colleagues and friends I have not met sometimes for several years is always exciting. When you live in Australia, you are pretty much at the end of the line, almost on a different planet far from everything else (apart from New Zealand). So meeting all my colleagues and friends in the same place once a year is great.

What do you find most valuable about ISEH?
The most valuable are the Annual Meeting and its journal Experimental Hematology. After a few years of absence (2 children came in the way), I've attended every year since 2009 and as I said earlier, the meeting is a great place to learn, meet, network, and for early career investigators, to get an oral presentation, international exposure and connections. Also the webinars, which are an initiative that started last year, are good and free for ISEH members.

The ISEH journal Experimental Hematology is a fantastic asset that members should make better use of. It’s free of charge for members, the turn-around is very quick and the editors and editorial board are made of very knowledgeable and talented ISEH members. I have published a few research articles and a review in Experimental Hematology. They are all cited over 50 times and some over 100 times. So if you have a good paper in Experimental Hematology, it will be cited. Putting my Treasurer’s hat on, Experimental Hematology is an essential asset for ISEH, as it provides 50% of the society’s revenues. Without the journal, it would be very difficult to run the society and organize the Annual Meeting.

What are your duties as Treasurer of the society?
My duties are to make sure that the finances of the society remain sound and are able to support the Annual Meeting and all the initiatives that the ISEH executives and Board of Directors want to develop. Fortunately, I get a lot of help from the staff of the managing company, SmithBucklin, who do the day-to-day management and accounting, and from the all-important finance committee made of ISEH members willing to help.

What does the role require on a day-to-day basis?
The day-to-day work of accounting revenues and expenses is done by the managing company's staff. So this not something I have to do.

How much time does the Treasurer role requires on a weekly/monthly basis?
As Treasurer, I attend the monthly Executive meeting as well as the Finance Committee meeting every second month. All these meetings are by teleconference, about an hour each, and I spend perhaps 2-4 hours to prepare for these meetings, and a few hours after the meeting if some action has to be taken. We have an agenda a few days before each meeting with data provided by the managing company SmithBucklin. During the couple of months before the Annual Meeting, I spend a bit more time to make sure that we are on budget with the meeting. The Annual Meeting represents 50% of our expenses and we want to make sure we keep it on budget. Another busy time is the preparation of the budget for the following year. This takes place in August-September. SmithBucklin's staff prepares it, so our job at the Finance Committee is to make sure that we have budgeted all the initiatives we want to put in place for the following year and make a balanced budget for the next year’s Annual Meeting. We have an extra 2-3 meetings to finalize the following year’s budget which is then presented to the Board of Directors for approval in October.

All in all I would say it takes me now about two days a month. I needed more time when I took the role 3 years ago, to understand the accounting and get everything on track. SmithBucklin's staff is always an e-mail away to help answer all questions.

What are the rewards of being the Treasurer of ISEH?
Two fantastic rewards are: 1) I have learnt a lot about running a budget of about $0.9M a year, establishing budgets for annual meetings, and seeing the process of organizing these meetings as well as initiatives that ISEH has initiated during the past 3 years. 2) It’s a fantastic position to work with the Executive and Board of Directors of ISEH. I really enjoy my monthly meetings with the past, current and future ISEH presidents. These are all very talented scientists whom I respect and working with them to steer the society has been a great privilege for the last 3 years.

Are there any transferable skills between Treasurer and scientist or vice-versa?
Thinking and running a budget, networking, and realizing that running a lab is like running a small business.

How is the financial situation of ISEH?
ISEH financial situation is very good. We have modified the Annual Meeting format and catering to avoid large losses that could potentially undermine the financial footing of the society. With this in mind, we hope to run the annual meeting without loss at all. What is also critical to the society continuing operation is the contract with Experimental Hematology's publisher, Elsevier. Experimental Hematology provides 50% of the society’s revenues, so it’s very important. We would also like to increase our membership and meeting attendance. An additional hundred members and meeting attendees would make an enormous difference to the budget.

What are the financial challenges that the Society faces?
The fact that most countries have reduced research funding and that some since the financial crisis in 2007-2008 is certainly a challenge. It is more difficult to attract corporate sponsorship and grants to fund the annual meeting. On the other hand, we are trying hard not to increase too much the meeting registration fees. Despite these financial challenges, we have run very successful meetings in the last 6 years and with the new meeting format, we should avoid large losses on future meetings. We also need strategies to increase our membership.

Which advice do you have for ISEH members that want to have a leadership role in the Society?
Put your hand up and get involved in one of the many ISEH committees to help steer the society and come up with fresh ideas. Come to the Annual Meeting regularly to meet and network, and showcase what you can bring to the society. Show your value as a scientist by submitting good abstracts. Once you start to be known by ISEH members, show your interest in being nominated to become a member of the Board of Directors and get elected.

What is the next role that you would like to have with ISEH?
This is my second successive term as Treasurer. I have learned a lot on the functioning of the society during these 3 years. During my tenure we have done a few changes to the financial running of the society. We have established a Finance Committee chaired by the Treasurer to review the financial position and budget on a regular basis. We have established an investment fund with the aim that future revenues will provide additional support for the society and strengthen its financial footing. I also think it is important to give continuity to the management of the society. So, when the Treasurer’s position is due for renewal in August next year, I hope to continue on the Finance Committee to help the new Treasurer.

What are your?

Hobbies: I love bushwalking in the remote Australian outback away from any technology or human presence except for my walking buddies. I do this less now that I have kids but now they are old enough, we take them with us in the car and for small day walks in some very remote areas of Australia. Like us, they love the wilderness and immensity of the landscapes. But this needs a lot of time (distances are huge) and organization. So, for 1 day long hobby, my winter favorite remains boogie-surfing on a week day to have the waves of the Pacific Ocean for myself. With a bit of luck, a dolphin will join the fun along my board. In the summer we take the kids to water theme parks, which are on the way to the beach. Lots of fun.

Favorite book(s): In English: A Year in Provence (Peter Mayle). In French: Regain (Jean Giono)

Favorite movie(s): I love cult movies (Pulp Fiction, Dr Strangelove, The Life of Brian, Delicatessen to name a few). A movie we love to watch with our kids is The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. We like travelling like Walter.

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Meet Dr. Mick Milsom

Posted By Connections Editor, Wednesday, July 1, 2015
Updated: Monday, June 29, 2015
Dr. Mick Milsom, PhD, is a junior group leader at the Heidelberg Institute for Stem Cell Technology and Experimental Medicine (HI-STEM) in Germany. He gained his PhD in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from the University of Leeds in the UK. For his first postdoctoral position, Dr. Milsom joined the group of Dr Leslie Fairbairn at the Paterson Institute for Cancer Research in Manchester, in order to study gene therapy of hematopoietic stem cells. He then moved to the USA to undertake a second postdoctoral fellowship in the group of Dr. David A. Williams at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. He next took up a junior faculty position at Harvard Medical School/Children’s Hospital Boston within the Division of Hematology/Oncology, again under the mentorship of Dr Williams.

Dr. Milsom has 14 years of experience in hematology and stem cell research, working in the fields of hematopoietic stem cell biology, DNA damage, aging, bone marrow failure and gene therapy. He first attended the ISEH annual meeting in Hamburg in 2007 and became a member of the society four years ago. Dr. Milsom is very involved with ISEH and is currently the head of the New Investigator Committee.

Dr. Milsom took the time to participate in a Q&A session with Connections. Below he shares with us how he got involved with the field of hematology; his decision to continue his research career in Germany; his view of the funding atmosphere in the US, Germany and other EU countries; the rewards of being involved with ISEH, and the excitement of publishing a Nature paper as senior author .
How did you find your way to the hematology and stem cells scientific field?
My Ph.D. was focused on the molecular regulation of gene expression in cell lines and, in the scheme of things, wasn’t too successful. I decided that I wanted to do something that was a little more translational for a postdoc and I answered an advertisement for a position in a group at the Paterson Institute for Cancer Research in Manchester that was studying gene therapy of hematopoietic stem cells. At the time of applying, I hadn’t realized that the Paterson had been an extremely productive and well renowned hub for hematopoietic stem cell research. Many of the people who had been responsible for that reputation were still in place when I started working there. The environment was amazing and I just fell in love with the subject and haven’t looked back.

Who has most influenced you to become a scientist, and how did they influence you?
I’ve been lucky enough to have some really inspiring teachers, both at high school and as an undergraduate student at the University of Leeds. When someone who is really passionate about the subject has taught you science, it’s very easy to develop that passion yourself.

Who is your most influential senior investigator mentor and how did he or she help you?
My ex-boss Dave Williams at Boston Children’s Hospital continues to be an amazing mentor to me. Despite his extremely busy schedule, he was always careful to take a time out to make an important teaching point while I was working in his lab. One of the best pieces of advice that he gave me was to keep my focus and not dilute my work effort in several different directions at once. This was really important when I started my own lab and had the possibility of working on the hundreds of crazy ideas I had been dreaming up as a postdoc. I think that he was also incredibly supportive when it came time for me to leave his lab by helping me prepare for faculty interviews, deal with contract negotiations and of course, spent plenty of time having open discussions with me about my future work plan and how that would evolve from the work I was carrying out in his lab at the time. Dave still provides me with lots of sage advice and he’s also now transitioned from being my former boss to a generous collaborator.

What is the overall aim of your research? What are you working on most intensely right now?
We’d like to understand exactly how and why hematopoietic stem cells alter their functional properties throughout the lifetime of an organism. We believe that by understanding this process, or processes, we will potentially gain insight into the etiology of age-related diseases, such as cancer. It would be great if we could also contribute towards the identification of potential therapeutic targets that one could modulate to slow down or prevent the development of hematologic disease.

What is the most exciting or intriguing result you’ve gotten so far?
I’ve been working on the bone marrow failure syndrome Fanconi anemia for a number of years and was always frustrated that we never had a good model system to study the aplastic anemia that almost all patients suffer from and which we hypothesized was caused by defective hematopoietic stem cell biology. There are a number of knockout mouse models of Fanconi anemia but even at extreme old age, they never spontaneously developed bone marrow failure. When we recently found that inflammatory stress could precipitate hematopoietic collapse in these mice, it felt like a real eureka moment. We were even more excited when we found that this mechanism of stem cell depletion also applied to wild type mice and is likely a route via which hematopoietic stem cells are compromised during aging.

Why did you choose to work at The Heidelberg Institute for Stem Cell Technology and Experimental Medicine over the UK or Harvard ?
After spending five and a half fantastic years working in the USA, my wife and I decided that it was probably time to move the kids and ourselves back across the Atlantic to be closer to our family in the UK. I applied for several positions in the UK but the financial downturn was just starting to bite there and there was very limited funding available for new PI’s to start up research groups. At the same time, I saw an advertisement in Nature for a new stem cell research group starting up in Heidelberg that was going to be led by Andreas Trumpp. I applied, was lucky enough to get an interview and was really blown away by the vision that Andreas had for what he wanted to set up and the resources and support that he had at his disposal to make it happen. It was really exciting being there at the very start and be able to contribute to the initial set up of the institute. All in all, it turned out to be a really good move for both me and the family, with the only down point so far being the slightly uncomfortable experience of watching my boys support the German national football team to world cup glory!

What is the situation of funding for research in Germany? Can you compare it with the US and other EU countries?
At the moment, scientific funding is extremely strong in Germany compared to the US and UK. The success rate for federally-funded grants is around 25% and although these grants only have a three year term that provide less money than the US equivalent of an R01 grant, they certainly appear to have helped prevent the same scale of cutbacks in academic research that have happened in other countries.

You just published a paper in Nature as senior author. How does it feel to have such an achievement at early stages in your career as an independent investigator?
Obviously, I’m delighted that we managed to get this story published in such a high profile journal and, to be honest, I still can’t quite believe that this has happened. I’ve been very lucky to have recruited an outstanding group of young talented scientists into my lab and this paper is really a testament to their hard work and that of our collaborators. From a personal perspective, my publication record as a postdoc was pretty solid but in no way outstanding. So with an eye towards my upcoming tenure evaluation it’s extremely helpful to have this on my CV. Now the real challenge is to try and maintain this level of productivity.


Why do you attend the ISEH Annual Scientific Meeting?
The meeting is a perfect size for networking and the quality of the scientific content is really outstanding. I’ve made a number of important connections at the annual meeting and, because many attendees make a habit of attending year after year, it now also serves as a great opportunity for me to meet up, chat and socialize with people who have turned out to be important collaborators. The ISEH party at the end of the meeting is also pretty awesome!

What is your favorite ISEH Annual Scientific Meeting memory?
I gave my first ever oral abstract presentation at the ISEH annual meeting in Hamburg, for which I had received a travel award. It was a great forum to present in as a postdoc and I have very fond memories of what was also my first ISEH meeting.

What are the rewards of being a member of the New Investigator Committee?
We’re given the remit to devise and deliver several different sessions at the ISEH annual meeting including a meet the expert mixer event, a careers workshop and a new investigator seminar that will be given by Fernando Camargo at this year’s meeting in Kyoto. More recently, we’ve also been asked to manage the ISEH webinar series and also improve year-round networking opportunities for ISEH members by setting up and promoting social media sites for ISEH on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. It’s been great fun contributing to all of these different functions for the society and it really does give you a great buzz when you see people using the sites you have helped set up or attending and clearly enjoying the sessions you’ve been involved in organizing at the annual meeting. As well as all this, the NIC is full of hard-working, talented, innovative people with whom it’s a pleasure to work.

The NIC organizes the very successful ISEH webinar series. How do you choose the theme/presenters? What are the challenges that you face? Is there anything that our members can do to help with the webinars?
The members of the NIC brainstorm for a topic for the webinar, suggest potential speakers and moderators, then debate what we think will be the most exciting line up for a broad section of the ISEH membership. So far, we’ve tried to create a debate-style webinar with two high profile speakers who might have differing or complimentary views on a given subject plus an expert moderator to orchestrate the discussion and ask questions mailed in from the audience. This format seems to have been really well received but we’re always on the lookout for ides for the next webinar. If any members have ideas for what they think would make an interesting webinar topic then it would be great if they could message us via any of the ISEH social media sites or through info@iseh.org

This year there are a few changes in the NIC organized sessions of the ISEH Annual Meeting. For example, the format of the Meet the Expert session has been changed to a “Meet the Expert Mixer”. Please explain the idea behind the new format.
One of the main reasons for changing the format of the sessions was that the main meeting will be a slightly shorter for this year in Kyoto. However, we are always looking to improve the sessions we provide based on feedback that we receive during and after the meeting. This year, the “Meet the Expert” session has been combined with the “NIC Mixer event”, which is essentially a reception with drinks and snacks. The new format will allow young investigators to share a drink and chat with up to four of our six invited experts in an informal setting as opposed to in previous years, when participants had to reserve a place on a table to speak with an individual expert.

Which advice do you have for young investigators that want to get involved in ISEH?
If you can attend the meeting and present your work there, then definitely take the chance to do this and don’t feel inhibited about approaching people you want to talk to at coffee breaks or over drinks in the evening. In my experience, the atmosphere at the meeting is extremely friendly and people wouldn’t be there if they didn’t want to network. If you can’t make it to the meeting, then join up with one of our social media networks and sign up for the webinars (which are free for ISEH members). It’s a great way to keep up with what’s going on in the society as well as keeping you up to date with all the latest cutting edge research in the hematology field. Finally, if you have a passion to help out the NIC, then keep an eye out for the call for new committee members, which will be posted shortly after the annual meeting.
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What are your?

Hobbies: I love rugby union. My three boys now play for one of the local teams in Heidelberg so now I’m enjoying coaching them plus chauffeuring them around to games. Since moving to Germany, I’m also now a big fan of sausage and beer!
Favorite book(s): I don’t know that I really have an out and out favorite. In terms of authors, I really like Salman Rushdie, Iain Banks and Ian McEwan amongst others.
Favorite movie(s): Being British, has to be a 007 movie. Maybe On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Goldfinger or Skyfall.
If you could meet one person (dead or alive) who would it be and why? Sir Patrick Stewart. I was a big fan of Star Trek the Next Generation when I was a kid. Plus we share the same haircut!

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Meet Dr. David Stachura

Posted By Connections Editor, Friday, May 1, 2015
Updated: Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Dr. David Stachura, PhD, is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, California State University, Chico. He has been working in the hematology and stem cells scientific field for 11 years and joined ISEH in 2008. His area of expertise is zebrafish and murine developmental hematopoiesis and developing in vitro assays to study hematopoietic progenitors. Dr. Stachura kindly accepted Connection's invitation to participate in a Q&A session. Below he shares with us his path to a tenure position, his love for teaching, the reasons behind his lab's facebook page and his concern about the low level of funding for medical research in the US.

Please tell us about your graduate and post-graduate education.

I received my Ph.D. in Cellular and Molecular Biology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, working in the laboratory of Dr. Mitchell Weiss. My research was focused on devising assays to study the differentiation of murine megakaryocyte-erythroid progenitors (MEPs). After graduating, I joined the laboratory of Dr. David Traver at the University of California San Diego to study zebrafish hematopoiesis and develop assays to more carefully interrogate zebrafish hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells (HSPCs).

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

I first became interested in hematopoiesis when I saw a talk that my graduate mentor gave at Penn. I had worked on microtubule dynamics before that, and was utterly fascinated by the idea that one cell (the hematopoietic stem cell; HSC) could generate the multitude of blood cells needed by an organism for its whole life. I instantly was interested in discovering how these cells functioned.

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

Ever since I was a child I wanted to be a scientist. My parents were teachers, and we were always camping, exploring, and learning about biological phenomena when I was a kid. The person that helped me realize that I could be a scientist (as a career) was Dr. Lynne Cassimeris at Lehigh University. I worked in her laboratory as an undergraduate researcher studying cell fusion; after that I was hooked, and applied to graduate school.

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

I would say that both my graduate and postdoctoral mentors helped me in different ways. Dr. Weiss taught me how to perform and interpret all the classic hematology experiments, which was useful for my creation of in vitro assays. Dr. Traver helped me a lot with my writing, grantsmanship, and really seeing science as a collaborative enterprise. I realize now how important it is to be a part of a community, which allows all of us to move the field forward. Importantly, they both taught me how to look at the “big picture,” and how to keep working hard to achieve success in science.

What is the overall aim of your research? What are you working on most intensely right now?

The overall aim of my research is to understand the signaling processes involved in regulating hematopoietic stem and progenitor cell (HSPC) proliferation, differentiation, and dysregulation. I have a few projects going on right now, but one of them involves interrogating the transcript expression of novel, hematopoietic-supportive zebrafish cell lines that I have created. I’m interested in understanding what types of cytokines are produced by these cell lines, and what this can inform us about the evolution of vertebrate hematopoiesis.

What is the most exciting or intriguing result you’ve gotten so far?

We have found several intriguing things. We observed that these cell lines we created from different sites of hematopoiesis in the zebrafish and have different capabilities in terms of HSPC proliferation and differentiation. And, we have found some duplicated cytokines in the zebrafish genome that have different effects than their mammalian paralogues. Now, the challenge is to figure out what signaling pathways are affected by these cytokines, with the hope of modulating them to treat hematopoietic disorders.

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


I like to think that research in itself is a challenge. I mean, we’re asking questions that no one knows the answer to; to answer these fundamental scientific issues under financial and time constraints is always a challenge. But, that’s why I love science- if it were easy I would do something else!

There are a lot of interesting aspects of this scientific field; what do you find the most exciting?

To me, being able to create, expand, and alter HSPCs to treat hematopoietic and immune deficiencies is super exciting. Also, the ability to utilize the immune system to fight off cancer is a really cool idea; I’m glad these studies are moving forward. The amount of information we have learned about the immune system over the past 60-70 years is staggering, and with the advent of induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cell technology, I expect that true personalized medicine to treat a multitude of hematopoietic and immune disease is where the field will continue to go.

Instead of an academic career, did you consider a career in industry and why?


I did. I really enjoy the idea of using my research to help people, and the pharmaceutical industry certainly does that by creating therapeutics. However, I really enjoy teaching and mentoring others; I feel like creating well-trained, intelligent, critical thinking students is an essential contribution that I can make to the scientific community.

What was the process that you had to follow to become an independent investigator?


It’s been tough- that’s what I tell all the students that I work with. The funding for research in the US has been reduced, there are lots of people with advanced degrees, and there simply aren’t enough PI positions to accommodate everyone. My process was likely very similar to others in the field; attend grad school, do a post-doc, and search for jobs. While that sounds simple, it isn’t. You really need to publish results, carve out a niche for yourself research-wise, work and collaborate well with others, and be prepared for a fairly long process. I’m not a very patient person, so the process of sending out job applications, waiting months to hear back (or not) from potential employers, interviewing and accepting a position, making sure your spouse can find a job, moving, and then starting your new job months later was somewhat daunting to me. I really just want to be getting research done!

Why did you choose to work at CSU-Chico?


I chose to join the faculty of CSU, Chico for a few reasons. First, I really wanted to have more of a role in teaching students in the classroom; I like teaching and I feel like I can have a positive role in mentoring young scientists. CSU, Chico also has an interesting approach to teaching biology; all faculty integrate their research into the classroom. Right now I have a bioinformatics project, an in vitro drug screen, and a collaboration with a talented professor in the Chemistry department to develop medicinal chemical compounds all being performed by students, in the classroom! I am a firm believer that students need to be involved in these active learning techniques in order to learn science. And, I realized that at large research-oriented institutions there are no real expectations to do this; I saw lots of students graduating with degrees in biology that have no experience performing laboratory experimentation. This isn’t the case at CSU, Chico- every biology class has a lab associated with it. I also really enjoy working with a very diverse group of faculty; we have such a great mix of different people here that study a wide range of topics in the biological sciences. And, the students really want to be here- they love the town and they love working in the laboratory; it’s refreshing! Finally, Chico is a great place to live. I admit that I didn’t know much about it before I moved to California, but it is a great, small college town, and the campus really feels like a diverse liberal-arts college.

Your lab has a facebook page with 137 likes. Who manages/contributes to the Facebook page?


It’s just me that manages the page.

Why you think that it is important to have a Facebook page for the lab?

I really think engaging students with social media is essential; this is how students communicate with each other, and it allows them to fell like they have involvement in the research studies. Facebook allows everyone to see the page and contribute if they are interested. It’s a great tool to keep in touch with my other colleagues that have Facebook pages, too.

Who do you think follows the website? Do you have a number of "likes" that you would like to reach?


Right now it’s a lot of friends and colleagues. But, our department has a Facebook page that follows my page along with our biology honor society. I’m hoping more students get involved over time, but I don’t have a specific numerical goal that I’m shooting for.

Your lab's Facebook page has several articles on funding for medical research in the US. Please explain how the current funding situation affects your lab.


I think it’s a huge issue for everyone with federal grant support. It affects my students, our institution, and me. In the US, spending for medical research has been declining for some time. If we had more money, I could definitely involve more students and get more research done more efficiently.

Do you have any advice to the federal government on how to increase funding?


I think we need to primarily increase the budgets for the NIH and NSF. There are clearly other problems in terms of supporting academic research, but we really need to spend more money. Everyone would benefit from this- importantly, students will be better trained and prepared for scientific jobs, which we also need more of.

What are the successful milestones that you hope to write on your lab's facebook page?


I’ll be excited to post some manuscripts getting published, grants getting funded, and students graduating!

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


Most importantly, make sure a career in science is what you want to do. You have to love it! Then, come up with a goal, stick with it, and work hard. If you want to be a teacher, start teaching. If you just want to work in a lab, then focus on your research. Whatever you do, do it the best of your abilities!

How were you introduced to ISEH?

My postdoctoral mentor, Dr. Traver, first introduced me to ISEH. And, I’m glad he did!

Why do you attend the ISEH Annual Scientific Meeting?


I attend the meetings to meet new people, catch up with old friends and colleagues, and also to learn about the new advancements in the field of hematology and stem cells.

What is your favorite ISEH Annual Scientific Meeting memory?


I still remember the reception that we had at the Melbourne aquarium in 2010- that was a lot of fun. And, I remember the great boat cruise in Amsterdam 2012. I’m looking forward to making more great memories at ISEH meetings!

What do you find most valuable about ISEH?


I love that the meetings are small, everyone is friendly, and that you can talk and collaborate with people that are experts in the field. It’s not like the huge clinical conferences where I feel like I have to work super hard to interact with people.

Which advice do you have for young investigators that want to get involved in ISEH?


Just do it! Everyone is friendly, helpful, and wants you to succeed.

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ISEH Member Profile: Dr. Tao Cheng

Posted By Connections Editor, Friday, February 27, 2015
Updated: Monday, February 23, 2015


Dr. Tao Cheng, MD, is the scientific director of the Institute of Hematology and Blood Diseases Hospital, Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences (CAMS) and Peking Union Medical College, the director of the State Key Laboratory for Experimental Hematology and the founding director of the Center for Stem Cell Medicine at CAMS in China. He received his medical degree from the Second Military Medical University in Shanghai, China, followed by his residency in internal medicine and clinical fellowship in hematology at Changhai Hospital, Shanghai. Dr. Cheng did his postdoctoral research training at the Hipple Cancer Research Center, Dayton, Ohio and Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School, Boston before moving to the University of Pittsburgh.

Dr. Cheng has 28 years of experience in hematology and 21 years in stem cell research, working in the fields of hematopoietic stem cell biology and leukemia biology. He first attended the ISEH annual meeting in 1995 and became a member of the society in 2002. He has been involved with the society as an executive committee member/treasurer (2010-2012), member of the Editorial Board of Experimental Hematology (since 2007) and has recently become an Associate Editor of the journal.

Dr. Cheng took the time to participate in a Q&A session with Connections. Below he explains how he got involved with the field of hematology, his decision to continue his research career in China, his advice to recruit more ISEH members in Asia and how he sees his new role as Associate Editor of Experimental Hematology.

How did you find your way to the hematology and stem cells scientific field?
When I was a third-year medical student before taking clinical courses, one of my classmates and roommates had a high fever after we played a soccer game. Shortly after he was sent to the hospital, he was diagnosed with acute leukemia and, tragically, he died of the disease in only a month. That shocking experience triggered me to develop a strong desire in doing hematology and stem cell research.

How were you introduced to ISEH?
I knew ISEH since I was a senior medical graduate student in the late 1980s. I submitted an abstract to the ISEH annual meeting in 1990 and obtained a travel award. Unfortunately, due to the international travel restrictions in China at that time, I was not able to attend the meeting.

Who was your most influential senior investigator mentor and how did he or she help you?
Dr. David Scadden, who was my mentor during my postgraduate training and also for my junior faculty tenure at Harvard. Shortly after I joined his lab, he sent me to attend the ISEH meeting in 1995. He has provided instrumental and constant guidance for my academic career development since then.

How are you helping to mentor new investigators at your lab/facility?
First of all, I always try to mobilize the young investigators to have a true, strong interest for scientific research. Second, I suggest them to have reasonable goals (both personal and job-related) throughout their career. Third, I advise them to constantly improve their communication skills, which are crucial for data presentation, paper/grant preparation, collaborative efforts, etc.

There are a lot of interesting aspects of this scientific field; what do you find the most exciting?
The most exciting aspect to me is living in an ever fast-developing era, in which researchers are able to dissect complex disease problems with all kinds of “omics”, single cell technologies and systems biology approaches with an emphasis on clinical relevance.

What is the most exciting study or project happening at your lab/facility?
Reprograming of hematopoietic cells is one of the important projects in my lab. Research on cell reprogramming will not only generate unprecedented promise for regenerative medicine but also provide a powerful tool to study the epigenetics of cells such as hematopoietic cells and leukemia cells.

Given your experience in the field, how have you seen the field change in the last five years?
Due to advances in technology, the field has changed dramatically. On one hand, our understanding of biology is becoming deeper. For example, many questions are to be addressed at the single cell and single molecule levels. On the other hand, translational studies have become a major trend. Clinical relevance or therapeutic potential of any biomedical study is an important element that needs to be assessed in order to make a stronger impact.

It is clear that the field is going to continue to evolve at an amazing pace. How do you see it changing over the next five years?
The above trends will continue, but given the increasing complexity of most studies, mega data technology coupled with systems biology is going to be in great demand in the years to come.

What do you consider the biggest challenge currently facing the hematology and stem cells scientific field and how can it be managed?
For hematology research, cutting costs down to deliver more affordable medicine is a major challenge. In addition to science, researchers may also have some practical considerations when they choose specific compounds or biological agents to work with. For stem cell research, providing scientific guidance for properly conducting clinical stem cell trials will also be a big challenge. Basic research can contribute more to the standardization of stem cell products in the future.

Does your lab have any big studies or projects planned in the near future?
With my basic research background mainly in hematopoietic stem cell biology, my research is moving toward a more translational direction in the future

You worked in the USA for several years, why did you decide to continue your research career in China?
The research platform is larger and the funding situation is better in China.

What are the challenges and the rewards of working as a researcher in China?
The academic atmosphere is not as strong as in the States, although it is improving. We could take some more scientifically challenging and more patient-relevant projects in China.

How would you describe the funding climate in your country for biomedical research in general and for your specific type of research in particular?
The funding situation in China is quite good in general and the mechanism for awarding grants is improving. There has been a special emphasis on stem cell research in recent years, which is particularly relevant to my research focus.

What advice do you have for new investigators that are considering to return to China to pursue a career in research?
If you believe more opportunities are important for a speedy career development, you should find a job in China.

What advice to you have for your government to recruit high level researchers?
The government has implemented a favorable policy allowing us to recruit high-level researchers. In fact, with the current policy, I have been able to recruit internationally-renowned researchers from other counties (such as Hideo Emma from Japan).

You are the newest Associate Editor of Experimental Hematology. Why did you accept the role? Do you think that it is important for the journal to have an Associate Editor working in China. Why?
On one hand, I want to contribute to the society and the field from which my career has benefited. On the other hand, this position may help to further improve the quality of papers coming from China, especially given the rapidly increasing submissions from China to western journals like Experimental Hematology.

Do you have any advice to help recruit more ISEH members in Asia?
ISEH can have more presence in Asia by organizing or co-organizing workshops, symposiums or training courses.

What do you find most valuable about ISEH?
Both science and location are quite important to me.

Why do you attend the ISEH Annual Scientific Meeting?
I attend it in order to catch up with the cutting-edge research in hematology and socialize with colleagues in the field.

What is your favorite ISEH Annual Scientific Meeting memory?
One was during the ISEH meeting I attended in 1995 in Düsseldorf, Germany and another was during last year’s ISEH in Montréal

What are your?
Hobbies: swimming, music
Favorite book(s): Albert Einstein, Steven Jobs, classical Chinese novels such as Romance of the Three Kingdoms
Favorite movie(s): Titanic, Interstellar
If you could meet one person (dead or alive) who would it be and why?
Charles Darwin. I would ask him what the true motivation for him to undertake his evolution discovery journey is: pure scientific curiosity or something else?

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Meet Dr. Daniel Lipka - ISEH 2014 New Investigator Award Winner

Posted By Connections Editor, Monday, January 5, 2015
Updated: Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Dr. Daniel Lipka, MD, is the 2014 winner of the ISEH New Investigator Award, given to the best presentation by a post-doctoral fellow. He is a postdoc in the laboratory of Professor Christoph Plass, German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ), Heidelberg, Germany. Dr. Lipka is board certified for internal medicine, hematology and oncology and has been working in the field of hematology and stem cell for 9 years as a clinician and 3 years in basic research. He joined ISEH a year ago.

 

Dr. Lipka took the time to participate in a Q&A session with Connections. Below he discusses how he transitioned from a clinician to a basic scientist, exciting developments in his research, as well as his future goals as an independent scientist.

 

Tell us about your post-graduate education, generally.

I studied medicine at the Universities of Heidelberg (Germany) and Madrid (Spain). Afterwards, I completed my training in Internal Medicine at the University Medical Centers of Ulm and Mainz in Germany and then moved to the University Medical Center in Magdeburg to specialize in Hematology/Oncology in the program lead by Prof. Thomas Fischer. In 2011, I then chose to leave clinical practice in order to pursue my growing interest in medical research and took up a position within the Division of Epigenomics and Cancer Risk Factors at the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) under the guidance of Professor Christoph Plass. Since then, my scientific research focuses on how the epigenome regulates the biology of both normal and malignant hematopoiesis.

 

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

My clinical mentor Thomas Fischer is a clinician scientist who dedicated his entire career to combine translational research with academic clinical medicine. During my entire clinical training, he supported and enforced my interest in hematologic research, which ultimately led to the decision to move into basic hematologic research.

 

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

For me as a clinical hematologist, it was a natural consequence to pursue my scientific career in the field of hematology, and as a matter of fact, when dealing with hematologic malignancies one cannot evade becoming interested in hematologic stem cells right away.

 

What is the overall aim of your research?

The overall aim of my research is to contribute to the understanding of the pathogenesis of myeloid malignancies at the molecular level. In the last couple of years, epigenetics has moved into the focus of hematologic research since many epigenetic key players show mutations in hematologic malignancies. My approach is to try and understand the role of epigenetics during normal hematopoiesis, since I believe that without understanding normal differentiation processes, it will be impossible to understand malignant transformation. One major technical barrier in this field of research, which limits the study of rare stem cell/cancer stem cell populations, is the relatively large amounts of input material that is required to perform true genome wide sequencing analysis following chromatin immunoprecipitation or bisulphite conversion. In Professor Plass’ lab, I have successfully employed a number of technologies in order to facilitate whole epigenome studies using limited input material from hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells.

 

Tell us a little about the subject of your presentation.

At this year’s ISEH meeting in Montreal, I presented my work describing the single CpG resolution DNA methylomes of hematopoietic stem cells and their immediate progeny. Across all populations, we identified >13000 differentially methylated regions that have not been covered by previous screens due to methodological restrictions. Differentially methylated regions were strongly enriched in cis-regulatory elements. We further observed an unprecedented correlation between changes in DNA methylation and gene expression. Together, this enabled us to identify a large number of novel gene regulatory elements, which are candidates for controlling the molecular programs directing self-renewal and early hematopoietic commitment.

 

How do you balance personal life and work?

My wife and my two children keep me busy while I’m at home and they manage to make me forget how busy I am at work as soon as I am entering our house.

 

What are you working on most intensely right now?

In our group, we are now working on a more comprehensive characterization of epigenetic changes occurring during early hematopoietic commitment. This will enable a better understanding of the molecular processes regulating stem cell self-renewal and differentiation.

 

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

Currently, epigenetics is a fast moving field. We are currently only at the very beginning in our understanding of how genes are regulated. One major obstacle in understanding gene regulation on a genome-wide scale is that there are numerous regions that can act at long distances, which makes the identification of their targets extremely difficult. I hope, that within the next 10 years mapping approaches would be feasible also for adult hematopoietic stem cells. The comprehensive mapping of genes to their regulatory regions will not only enhance our understanding of how hematopoiesis is regulated, but it will also facilitate the identification of novel drug targets for the treatment of hematologic malignancies.

 

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

My most influential scientific mentor is Christoph Plass. I started in his lab as a postdoc three years ago, and he managed to get me fascinated in the field of epigenetics from the first day on. I managed to convince him to pursue my idea to study the DNA methylomes of hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells which I envisioned to be a major resource for hematologic research. 

Although this was not his primary research field at that time, he heavily supported me throughout the entire project. Now, 2 ½ years later, we have published two papers based on the results of this work.

 

What are your future career plans?

In the near future, I hope to be able to start my own research group dealing with epigenetics in normal and malignant hematopoiesis.

 

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

Follow your interest and know your capabilities. This is, apart from hard work, the basis for success in research.

 

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

During your research you ask questions and try to design the right experiment to answer these questions. Sometimes you get the answer (right or wrong) from your experiment, but sometimes the result is something completely unexpected. This is why I am still fascinated by science.

 

How were you introduced to ISEH?   

I was introduced to ISEH through my colleague Mick Milsom who was telling me how great the annual ISEH meetings are.

 

What do you find most valuable about ISEH

ISEH is a viable research society and I experience that everybody in the society really actively contributes to keep this research society alive.  

 

Why do you attend the ISEH Annual Scientific Meeting? 

At the ISEH Annual Meeting unpublished data are presented and discussed. I feel that the ISEH Annual Meeting is very interactive and a good forum for presenting research, since numerous well renowned experts in the field of hematology are attending the meeting.

 

What is your favorite ISEH Annual Scientific Meeting memory

A statement by Connie Eaves at the beginning of her talk in Montreal this year. She was saying that she was happy to be able to present her data on the “annual world lab meeting”. And this statement represented exactly how I feel about the ISEH Annual Meeting.

 

 

What are your?

 

Hobbies:  Running, Skiing

 

Favorite book(s): “La sombra del viento” by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

 

 

 

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Meet Albert Kim - Winner of the ISEH New Investigator Award

Posted By Connections Editor, Thursday, October 30, 2014
Updated: Tuesday, October 28, 2014
Albert D. Kim, BSc, MSc is the 2014 winner of the ISEH New Investigator Award, given to the best poster presentation by a graduate student. Albert is finishing his PhD in the laboratory of Dr. David Traver at University of California, San Diego. He has been working in the field of hematology and stem cell for 8 years, and has been an ISEH member all those years.

Albert kindly answered some questions for ISEH.

Tell us about your graduate education, generally. About the experience of being a graduate student.
My graduate career has felt like growing up all over again, learning from talented people that are much better at research than I am. During this period I understood that to approach the level of my colleagues someday I would need something more than what I could absorb from them. Graduate school has been the stage where I’ve tried to understand and develop what ‘my way’ as a scientist is.

Who has most influenced you to become a scientist, and how did they influence you?
Julien Bertrand was my first postdoc mentor that showed me by example the level of performance and diligence that I would need to reach as a scientist. Wilson Clements was my second postdoc mentor that showed me the level of thinking and planning that I would need to focus my research. I think of both of them as my living textbooks and I constantly refer to my memories associated with them when I am doing my research today.

How did you find your way to the hematology and stem cells scientific field?
I was interested in the advancements in the field of stem cell biology from the news and I wanted to be part of that. I found David Traver as he was beginning his laboratory at UCSD while I was an undergraduate and was excited by his goals in understanding how hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) are made. David shared much of the expertise that he had developed during his training with Irving Weissman and Leonard Zon with me from the beginning, and since then I’ve been hooked on this field.

What is the overall aim of your research?
My aim, shared by many in the field of hematopoiesis, is to understand the requirements for specifying HSCs during embryonic development. I have focused my research on understanding the mechanisms by which cell-signalling pathways orchestrate this process, with particular interest in how the surrounding microenvironment of HSC precursors is involved. Ultimately I would like to understand more about what the microenvironment does that is required for HSC specification.

Tell us a little about the subject of your presentation.
Notch signaling is known to be a key requirement for HSC specification, but our understanding of how many processes it controls that are required by HSCs is unclear. In my presentation I presented evidence that Notch signaling utilizes multiple Notch receptors to coordinate at least two molecularly, temporally, and spatially separable events that are both required for HSC formation. The requirement for Notch1a/Notch1b in HSC precursors demonstrates conservation across vertebrates, but the requirement for Notch3 in the somitic microenvironment is surprising.

What is the most exciting or intriguing result you’ve gotten so far?
I was excited by the results that activating Notch signaling in the somites of Notch3-deficient embryos rescued HSC formation, while endothelial induction of Notch failed rescue HSCs. I was interested by the fact that this failed endothelial induction of Notch signaling in Notch3-deficient embryos led to ectopic expression of HSC markers in endothelium of regions of the embryo that normally do not express these markers. My inference from this finding is that tissues that normally do not make HSCs might be easier to transform to an HSC-like fate with inappropriate signals than bona fide HSC precursors that might ‘know better.’ The key to making healthy HSCs in a dish might lie in understanding what makes true HSC precursors different from every other tissue in the embryo, even from what seem like highly similar tissues.

What's the biggest challenge you've ever faced in your research?
The biggest challenge has been how to do research in a highly competitive field as a relative newcomer to it. As a graduate student my resources in terms of time and expertise are more limited compared to the majority of independent researchers in the field, therefore in order to be competitive I need to choose questions that are unlikely to have many preexisting competitors working on them, can design experiments that have a reasonably high chance of resulting in a clear answer, and have the discipline to not move on until I find the answer. While these factors are important for everyone in research, graduate students feel the combination of these pressures most acutely. The one advantage that we have as graduate students is that thinking with these pressures in mind can lead to incredibly simple ideas and straightforward execution.

How do you balance between work and personal life?
I think of the two as highly related; my personal life is tailored to boost my motivation to the highest possible level so that I can be the most effective researcher possible. As I mentioned earlier graduate students are limited by time and by expertise, the one thing we can use to our advantage is our fresher motivation. I am motivated when I am improving at something that requires a high level of skill, so I spend much of my personal time doing hobbies that are like science in that I get more out of it the more skillful I am. These hobbies allow me to develop this type of thinking and attitude in a stress-free setting and give me a foundation to draw on when the pressure is on.

What are you working on most intensely right now?
The work that I presented on recently at ISEH leads to many immediate questions including what are the specific regulators and targets of the environment and cell-intrinsic-required Notch signals. I have exciting preliminary data that shows that there are specific regulators of these Notch signals, and I am trying to uncover the mechanisms involved in this process. On the horizon I have my postdoctoral training lined up and I spend time planning my initial directions.

There are a lot of interesting aspects of this scientific field; what do you find the most exciting?
I like that to succeed as a scientist in this field there are many different skill-sets needed, and there is a constant pressure to get better as we progress in our careers, making it an endless goal. That’s the type of career that I can devote my life to, and find joy in every step along the way. Yes is it incredibly difficult, but that is what will give me satisfaction in the end.

In your field, what do you hope we will know in five or 10 years that we don’t know now?
I hope we know what are the conditions needed to maintain and make healthy transplantable HSCs in a dish someday. It’s been a huge mystery since the beginning of this field, but there has been tremendous progress in the past few years so the chances can only get better.

Who is your most influential senior investigator mentor and how did he or she help you?
I am most impressed with my mentor David Traver’s relentless hunger for progress and intensity to cross the finish line on projects, and I have taken that with me. He’s shown me how to take a laboratory from its inception and take it all the way into an established and successful laboratory. If I am fortunate enough to be in that position someday I am sure I will draw upon my memories with him. Most importantly he gave me incredible opportunities to apply what I have learned from the talented team he has assembled and succeed as a young scientist. I’ve grown more as a scientist and a person than I would have thought since I first started with him, and I am confident moving forward.

What are your future career plans?
I have my postdoctoral training lined up after I am finished with the Traver laboratory. I will be joining Andy McMahon at USC to ultimately understand how to make, maintain, and repair healthy kidneys in a dish, similar to previously mentioned goals in hematopoiesis. I know by the end of that phase of my postdoctoral training I will be well trained for the next stage of my career.

What general advice would you give a young person considering a career in science?
Understand what it is you like about science and your specific goals, then get informed about what it will take to reach these goals. Once you have that plan, continuously set benchmarks that will help you reach the next stage and take measures to reach them. Once you’ve taken the plunge and set on your path in a career in science take responsibility for your own development, and become an expert trainee and utilized your mentors effectively. Learn how your mentor made it to where they are today, and make their strengths become your strengths as you are developing your own. Lastly, have the tenacity and the intensity to develop and protect your career as a professional.


What are the results of a scientific career that makes it worthwhile and exciting?
Certainly having recognition and contributing to what is known in science is a huge part of what makes it worth doing. I am most motivated by the daily prospect of learning more than what I knew yesterday. Everything else seems to fall into place when that is my main priority.

How were you introduced to ISEH?
My mentor and colleagues were encouraging me to attend the yearly meeting. I was excited by the list of speakers and the ability to communicate with them in person.

What do you find most valuable about ISEH?
Much of what we think about as graduate students feels like independent thinking in a vacuum. Coming to the meeting and talking with the community gives us the opportunity to inform and refine our perspectives. That big picture understanding is something that I find the most rewarding about meetings, and ISEH in particular.

Why do you attend the ISEH Annual Scientific Meeting?
I attend the meeting to present my work and get advice from experts in the field. It’s a huge opportunity to network and set up future collaborations.

What is your favorite ISEH Annual Scientific Meeting memory?
Without a doubt winning best student talk. I’ve never presented a talk at an international meeting or won anything in my life. To do both at the moment that means the most for my career makes me feel tremendously lucky and thankful to everyone that helped me along the way.

What are yours :

Hobbies? Tennis
Favorite book? Ender’s Game
Favorite movie? Lord of the Rings Trilogy
If you could meet one person (dead or alive) who would it be and why?
I view tennis and science as very similar disciplines in that those that have succeeded have possessed an amazing combination dedication, willingness to adapt to solve problems, and ability to execute in key situations. Rafael Nadal is a champion tennis player that has these qualities but is also believably humble and uplifting. Here is one of my favorite quotes of his:
“(But) it's nice to be there fighting, trying to go to the limit. It's something I really enjoy and I always said it is good to suffer. When you are fit and have passion for the game you are able to enjoy suffering.”
It would be nice to meet him just to say thanks for the inspiration.

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Meet Dr. Nadia Carlesso - "ISEH has created a tight community of hematologists"

Posted By Connections Editor, Friday, September 5, 2014
Updated: Wednesday, September 3, 2014

 

Nadia Carlesso, M.D., Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Pediatrics

Medical and Molecular Genetics

Herman B Wells Center for Pediatric Research

Indiana University School of Medicine

1044 W. Walnut, Bldg. R4-Room 166

Indianapolis, IN  46202

Ph:      317-274-2134

FAX:     317-274-8679

Email:  ncarless@iupui.edu

 

Dr. Nadia Carlesso is an associate professor of Pediatrics Medical and Molecular Genetics at the Herman B Wells Center for Pediatric Research Indiana University School of Medicine. She has been working in the field of hematology and stem cell research for 22 years, and has been an ISEH member for 14 of those years. She has served on the ISEH Board of Directors since 2010 and is a member of the ISEH Membership and Marketing Task Force.

 

Dr. Carlesso kindly answered some questions for ISEH.

 

 

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

It wasn’t a straight line. I started research when I was in Medical School (in Torino, Italy) and I spent the first two years studying the Dictyostelium Discoideum. A summer internship in the Department of Pathology at the University of Berlin introduced me to Hematology, but it was the subsequent internship in the Hematology Department at the University of Torino – that was determinant for my future path. There, under the guidance of Dr. Dario Ferrero (the “Maestro”), I learnt the bases of normal and malignant hematopoietic cell biology and I got completely hooked by the complexity of the hematopoietic system.

 

How were you introduced to ISEH?

It was in 1991. ISEH was in Parma, Italy. I had just concluded my first work on AML cells in vitro response to retinoic acid and I submitted it to the conference. It was my first international meeting.

 

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

David Scadden. I worked close to him for 10 years. During my training with him I learn principles that I keep as constant reminder in my work: - to think outside the box and about the big picture - never be satisfied with what you know and always push the bar higher.

 

How would you describe your lab environment:

I am working in the Herman B Wells Center for Pediatric Research at Indiana University School of Medicine, Indianapolis, Indiana. I have a core group of 6 people: 3 postdoctoral fellows, 1 PhD student, 1 clinical fellow and one technician;  plus 3-6 rotating graduate and undergraduate students during the year.

 

How are you helping to mentor new investigators in your lab?

Mentoring is not only about the personal advice or guidance you provide to your mentees: you are mentoring by example. I hope to be a good example, by having a positive outlook at things, accepting constructive criticism, being open minded and determined. I am trying to show them the rewards of doing research, not only the challenges.

 

There are a lot of interesting aspects of this scientific field; what do you find the most exciting?

The distinct role of specific cell microenvironments in the regulation of hematopoietic stem cells and progenitors. Our expanding knowledge on the superimposing layers of gene regulation by epigenetic mechanisms and non-coding RNAs. The new gene-editing tools like CRISPR, which will allow faster generation of new animal models.

 

What is the most exciting study or project happening in your lab?

We have recently discovered a molecular link between Notch signaling, microRNA miR155 and NF-kB regulation. We are currently studying how Notch signaling regulates the inflammatory tone in the bone marrow microenvironment and how this impact normal and malignant hematopoiesis.

 

Given your experience in the field, how have you seen the field change in the last five years?

There has been an amazing progress in several areas, such as genomic and epigenetics, non-coding RNAs, iPS, the tumor microenvironment and the return of immunotherapy. A better understanding of cellular contexts and specific alterations in hematopoietic malignancies has also driven the development of several new drugs and targeted therapeutic approaches.

 

It’s clear that the field is going to continue to evolve at an amazing pace. How do you see it changing over the next five years?

I predict that there will be a steady progress in understanding the relation between individual genetic make-up, disease and response to therapies, and that “personalized medicine” and more effective targeted therapies will move fast-forward. We will have increased ability to generate experimental disease models, through animal models and iPS technology and there will be more progress toward tissue and organ regeneration. I also think that the technological advances made in the past few years lay the premises for a new conceptual breakthrough, of which we may have only glimpses at this moment. 

 

What do you consider the biggest challenge currently facing the hematology and stem cells scientific field and how can it be managed?

The recent advances in technology has allowed us to gather an enormous amount of information- Think for example,  about our ability to define whole gene expression at a single cell level, in individual patients, in different tissues and disease contexts. I think the biggest challenge for the researchers will be to interpret these data, to distinguish the “critical” from the “marginal” at the light of a specific question. I think the generation of new algorithms and analytical tools and the thinking process characterizing “System Biology” will help us in this challenge.  

 

Does your lab have any big studies or projects planned in the near future?

We are planning to continue to investigate how the bone marrow niche regulates the hematopoietic stem cell/progenitor differentiation during acute infections and how the inflamed bone marrow microenvironment contributes to hematopoietic malignancies.  

 

How would you describe the funding climate for your specific type of research?

Climate: there have been several harsh winters – we are looking forward to spring.


What advice do you have for new investigators entering this scientific field?

Do not take anything for granted –do not slide into dogmatism (it is easier than you think) - keep being curious. Always.

 

What do you find most valuable about ISEH?

Since its start ISEH has created a tight community of hematologists from different parts of the world and a great forum to discuss new ideas in the field.

 

Why do you attend the ISEH Annual Scientific Meeting?

I like the size and the organization of it: they are ideal to foster collaborations and interactions among senior scientists and trainees. I like the many opportunities and the ideal forum created for students and postdoc to discuss science and career.

 

What is your favorite ISEH Annual Scientific Meeting memory?

My favorite ISEH meeting is without doubt Parma 1991. At this meeting I meet who will become my life companion/husband, Angelo Cardoso. There, I also met who will become my first US mentor, Jim Griffin. I followed him closely at the meeting, until I got him to see my poster and ask him: can I work in your lab? The following year I moved to Boston, into his lab, and I have being in the States ever since. ISEH Parma 1991 had also the best food I had in a meeting, “ever”.

 

Why did you decide to become part of the Editorial Board of ExpHem and the Membership & Marketing Task Force task force ?

I like this society, I wanted to feel more a part of it and help in sustaining it, in some ways.

 

What are your hobbies?

No yet time for hobbies

 

If you could meet one person (dead or alive) who would it be and why?

Jules Verne. I read all his novels as a kid, but I am still fascinated by his stories, his imagination and by his accurate prediction of different technologies:  many of his imaginary things became real 100 years later. I would be curious to know what he will imagine if he would live in our days…..


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ISEH 47th Annual Meeting - Los Angeles, CA

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