Stem Cells in Focus

Member Spotlight on Jose Polo, PhD

  • 17 April, 2017
Hometown:
Buenos Aires, Argentina

Current Residence:
Melbourne, Australia

Graduate Degree:
Biochemistry from University of Buenos Aires, Argentina; PhD from Albert Einstein College of Medicine, NY, USA. 

Postdoc Work:
Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard University

Current Positions:
Associate Professor at the Department of Anatomy and Developmental Biology and the Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute, Monash University.

Chief Investigator at Stem Cells Australia




What is the current focus of your research?

I trained in classic biochemistry (proteins, enzimology, more proteins). Then, during my PhD, I became familiar with transcription factor biology, epigenetics and a fairamount of bioinformatics, all these in the context of lymphomagenesis and B-cellmaturation. During my postdoc I was trained in stem cell biology and reprogramming.Thus, I feel equally comfortable in the haematology and stem cell fields. Experimentally, I guess that my areas of expertise are biochemistry, epigentics and genome wide data analysis. Currently my lab is working in different aspects of the reprogramming process, adult stem cells and blood malignancies. However, even though these may sound like different things, indeed in all the cases, we study the same underlying question: What molecularly defines the identity of a cell and how we can control this? 

What led you to become a scientist and to stem cell research?

Since I can remember I always liked natural science. As a kid I was looking for bugs, playing with the “chemistry boxes” etc. But I guess the event that shaped my interest in “biology” was getting my grandfather’s microscope when I was about 12 years old. I used to put everything under that microscope, including blood I used to get from endlessly pricking my mother’s finger. As an undergraduate, I studied biochemistry, which in Argentina encompassed basic chemical biology and clinical analysis. I always knew I was going to do a PhD after that.

How did I get into stem cells? Actually, when I was looking for a postdoc, I wanted to study the biochemistry behind cell fate. At that time I was thinking in differentiation, malignant transformation or reprogramming. I was in Boston doing some interviews (not in stem cells) and I had dinner with my friend Matthias Stadfeldt, who had been my classmate at Albert Einstein. Matthias was doing his postdoc with Konrad Hochedlinger and told me how exciting it was working in Konrad’s lab and that I should at least meet him. So I met him and now here I am.

How do you spend your free time?

What is that? Actually I enjoy being with my family, my wife Tania and my two beautiful twins: Catalina and Felipe. At the moment we are renovating our house, which keeps us very busy.

What is one thing your peers would be surprised to learn about you?

Before starting university I was between philosophy and biochemistry, but finally chose biochemistry. However in my second year, I dropped biochemistry to study philosophy, but a trip to Japan and the U.S. a couple of months later made me realise that indeed my heart was still in biochemistry. So who knows, maybe one day... 

What do you like most about living and working in Australia?

We live in a beautiful spot of Melbourne called the Mornington Peninsula where we enjoy going around the beach and beautiful hills (full of wineries, parks, animals, etc.) about 5 minutes from my house. We also love the fact that my wife’s family is nearby. 

Working in Australia has been great; I really like the sense of community and collaboration across different groups from the same or different institutes. The stem cell community in Australia has received me with open arms and very rapidly made me feel part of them. Finally, working at Monash University has been a great experience with outstanding support, excellent lab members, colleagues and mentors.

Actually, if someone one wants to see how the stem cell field in Australia is, we are having our annual meeting in November, just a few days after the ISSCR Regional Forum in Singapore. So why not to travel to both meetings?

What do you gain from your ISSCR membership?

First of all I think having a forum that can group researchers from the same field is important. 

In the particular case of ISSCR, I really like the fact that the board of directors, president etc, are the leaders in our field, which I believe gives the society a strong voice when necessary. On this note, I believe this is a critical time in our field due to the translational potential of our research. Therefore, this moment in time and the time to come is going to be very important for our field on how we communicate the science and manage the expectation of the community, so having such a professional and highly regarded society will be important. From a personal and practical point of view, it is very useful for me to be able to see oral presentations of past conferences as well as special seminars on the web [on ISSCR Connect].

Congratulations on receiving one of the inaugural Metcalf Prizes from the National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia. What does the recognition mean to you?

Thanks, receiving the award was very special for me and I guess that it means different things. In principle it means the leaders in the Australian stem cell community believe in me, value what I have done so far, and value my contribution to Australian science in general.