What is the current focus of your research and how did you get where you are?
My areas of expertise are (1), cell reprogramming and differentiation to study Parkinson’s disease and develop cell therapies for this illness, and (2), neuroinflammation to develop protective therapies for Parkinson’s disease.
I received my biochemistry degree in Buenos Aires and then went on to a PhD in molecular virology in Europe. As a postdoc, I applied my acquired knowledge in projects involving neuroimmunology and gene therapy of Parkinson’s disease, and it soon became clear that gene-modified cells were the best option for future treatments. Since 2011, I have been enthusiastically collaborating with Xianmin Zeng at the Buck Institute on therapeutic options.
There is a good deal of public and patient interest in stem cell treatments for Parkinson’s disease. How do you communicate your excitement about your progress with the current limitations?
It is an exciting time for scientists in my line of research, but our work is still pre-clinical. We are currently testing potential applications in five different animal models, but just in animal models – I’m always very clear about that. I have learned to balance patients’ need for hope and the reality of the current research in my communication to and with the public.
How do you spend your free time?
I enjoy soccer, playing with my 10-year-old daughter, Buddhist meditation and cooking Argentinian barbecue, which I pair with excellent Malbec wines. I was asked, a number of years ago, during an interview for my PhD program, if I liked to cook. The scientist questioning me believed that good cooks make good scientists; that curiosity and skill related to recipes is not so different from one to the other.
What is one thing your peers would be surprised to learn about you?
I am happily living with my ex-wife. She and I divorced many years ago, but later reconnected. We have one daughter from our first relationship and one from our second, and our situation works for our family.
Is living in Buenos Aires as glamorous as it sounds?
You certainly have no time to be bored. If you like dining out, an intense cultural environment, friendly relationships and great weather, this is the place to live.
I spent many years in Europe but would have returned to Argentina earlier if there had been scholarships or grant opportunities available. Since the formation of the Ministry of Science, however, the government perception of science has changed, and there is more funding and better opportunities for collaboration. It used to be that there were twice as many Argentinian scientists abroad as there were practicing at home, but that is changing, and I’m happy to be contributing to the change.
What do you gain from your membership with ISSCR?
I have gained an international perspective on stem cell research and the opportunity to network with leaders in the field. Additionally, I’ve come to understand how a scientific society works and the tremendous impact it can have on research. I am currently on the ISSCR Clinical Translation Task Force and, in 2009, I coordinated an ISSCR meeting with the Ministry of Science in my country, which was an overwhelming success – our president opened the meeting.