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Meet Dr. Gay Crooks: The newest Associate Editor of Experimental Hematology

Posted By Connections Editor , Friday, February 28, 2014
Updated: Thursday, February 27, 2014

Gay Crooks, M.B., B.S. (Australian form of MD)
Professor, Rebecca Smith Endowed Chair
Departments of Pathology & Laboratory Medicine, and Pediatrics
David Geffen School of Medicine
Co-Director, Broad Stem Cell Research Center
Associate Director, Cancer & Stem Cell Biology Program,
Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center

University of California, Los Angeles
Office: 610 Charles E. Young Drive, East
Terasaki Life Sciences Building, Room 3014
Los Angeles CA 90095
Phone: (310) 206-0205
fax: (310) 206-0356

Dr. Gay Crooks is an eminent professor in the departments of Pathology, Laboratory Medicine, and Pediatrics at the David Geffen School of Medicine in the University of California, Los Angeles. She is also the co-director of the Broad Stem Cell Research Center and the Associate Director of the Cancer & Stem Cell Biology Program at the Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Dr. Crooks has been working in the field of hematology and stem cell research for 24 years, and has been an ISEH member for 20 of those years. She has served on the ISEH Board of Directors, as Chair of the ISEH Awards Committee, on the ISEH Membership Committee and  recently has become an Editor of Experimental Hematology.

Dr. Crooks uses her limited spare time to volunteer her expertise and experience to many other distinguished scientific boards and publications, including the editorial boards of BLOOD journal and Human Gene Therapy. She has also served as the Chair of the ASGCT Embryonic/Somatic Stem Cell & Tissue Engineering Committee.

Dr. Crooks kindly answered some questions for ISEH.

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

I spent the research part of my fellowship in pediatric hematology-oncology at the Children's Hospital of Los Angeles. I was working on a project on gene transfer in Hematopoietic Stem Cells, and I became fascinated in the biology of these unique and rare cells.

And then how were you introduced to ISEH?

My mentor introduced me to ISEH early in my research fellowship.

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

I really have two mentors: Donald Kohn and Robertson Parkman. Donald Kohn has been my research mentor and colleague for 20 years. He taught me the scientific method and provided me with the resources to grow as an independent investigator. He has been extremely generous with his time and very early on he allowed me to develop my own ideas. He has also been a great role model in translational research. Robertson Parkman is a senior physician scientist and was head of the BMT division at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles. He has inspired me with his energy and insights about how science and research can impact patient care. He is a brilliant thinker and has always been incredibly generous with his time and support.

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

I try to understand the personal goals of my mentees, from graduate students to junior faculty and to create research projects that best answer their interests and needs. I think that perhaps the main thing I can do to encourage them in their research career is to help them see the joy and integrity in the process of scientific discovery.

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

Hematopoiesis is an exquisitely fine-tuned and dynamic system. Fortunately, a huge body of work over the past 50-60 years has provided us with a powerful framework for understanding the most basic questions in biology while also a clear clinical relevance for answering those questions. .

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

We have lots of great projects in the lab at present. For example, we are engineering human thymus tissue to implant into mice to create the microenvironment required for human T-cells to grow efficiently. We are also studying how to manipulate gene expression in human ES cells to produce Hematopoietic Stem Cells.

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?

The recent revelations in gene regulation are changing our view of how genes are controlled and are expanding dramatically the questions that can be asked regarding regulation of developmental process such as hematopoiesis.

The field is rapidly incorporating the notion that the overlay of non-coding regulatory sequences, including LiNC RNAs and microRNAs as well as RNA splicing mechanisms, are at least as important as the protein coding genes that they regulate. Hematopoiesis is a very powerful tool to study these regulatory networks, as the differentiation process is so well understood. In addition, so many years of research have created very elegant protocols to isolate cells at different stages of development and a large array of assays to demonstrate function.

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

The challenges are very similar to other fields, a combination of scarce resources (from reduced funding) and the imperfect process of peer review.

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

We are working on how to improve human lymphoid development from stem cells. Clinical ways of improving hematological expansion and function after chemotherapy and stem cell transplantation have mainly focused on cytokines that promote myelopoiesis (e.g. G-CSF) and erythropoiesis (e.g. erythropoietin). Very little research has focused on ways to improve lymphopoiesis. However, as lymphoid recovery is much more delayed than the recovery of neutrophil function and the delay creates significant clinical risks, there is a real need to develop strategies to speed the functional recovery of lymphopoiesis.

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

It is very difficult for everyone to get funding but the biggest problem is the uncertainty and inability to plan long term, that comes with short term funding and also with unexpected cuts in budgets of awarded grants. The lag period of applying for grants and receiving funding is another major issue for each labs planning. It will be a tragedy, and a waste of the years of previous investment, if all the tools that basic science has created cannot be applied to the field of biology and medicine due to the competing priorities of the Federal Government.

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

Even though the field is very mature scientifically (relative to others), I think there are entirely new questions opening up from the use of new tools to examine gene regulation and other basic questions. I would also suggest that trying to link your work to human hematopoiesis will open up more opportunities for research funding.

What do you find most valuable about ISEH?

The society has a clear focus on the scientific field that most interests me and provides all of us in the field a foundation for the history and for the future of the discipline.

Why do you attend the ISEH Annual Scientific Meeting?

I enjoy the chance to talk about great science with wonderful colleagues.

What is your favorite ISEH Annual Scientific Meeting memory?

Spending time over red wine with Christa Muller-Sieburg on the harbor cruise at the ISEH meeting in Vancouver in 2011.

Why did you decide to become an Associate Editor for Experimental Hematology?

I believe that Experimental Hematology is uniquely placed in the scientific literature through its focus on the basic biology of hematopoiesis. It also has a 40-plus year history and avid readers. I am happy to bring to the journal my background in the field in of hematopoiesis, and specifically in human hematopoiesis in which there are still many important questions to answer.

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