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An ERC-funded project has significantly increased understanding of the crucial role that microorganisms in the gut play in maintaining health. The findings have since led to a patent, as well as a follow-on project that could one day steer the way to new targeted treatments for diseases, including cancer.
Through her work with the fruit fly Drosophila santomea, Dr Virginie Orgogozo aims to answer one of the most challenging questions of modern evolutionary biology: how do observable characteristics change between species and yet remain stable in a given species?
Haematopoietic Stem Cells (HSCs) are blood cells located in the bone marrow. These cells are extensively used in research to develop treatments for many severe diseases, including HIV and multiple sclerosis, and their transplant is a key therapy for certain types of cancer like leukemia and multiple myeloma. However, the use of HSCs is seriously constrained by their limited availability since growing them in the lab does not produce very large quantities. There is therefore an urgent need for methods allowing scientists to multiply HSCs, without losing any of their properties.
With her degree in biology, Dr Maria-Elena Torres-Padilla left Mexico and embarked on an international career in epigenetics. She completed her PhD at the Pasteur Institute in Paris and then moved to Cambridge University. In 2006 she joined IGBMC in Strasbourg working as a group leader. She has just been appointed Director of the Institute of Epigenetics and Stem Cells of the Helmholtz Zentrum in Munich. Supported by an ERC grant, she studies the mechanisms controlling embryonic cellular plasticity with the aim of shedding new light on today's fertility issues. In this interview she shares her story as a non-European scientist in Europe.
Cellular regeneration allows wound healing in humans but in other vertebrates such as salamanders, it goes a step further: they can regenerate their limbs in their full complexity of bones, nerves, muscle and skin and can do it over and over again. Prof. Elly Tanaka studies these amazing capacities and, mirroring the process, has successfully grown a piece of mouse spinal cord in vitro.