Elisa Laurenti, PhD
Jul 6, 2018
Current residence: Cambridge, United Kingdom
Graduate degree: University of Lausanne, Switzerland
Current position: Principal Investigator, Wellcome -Medical Research Council Cambridge Stem Cell Institute, Department of Haematology, University of Cambridge
What is the current focus of your research, and what do you find most rewarding about your work?
My lab currently works to understand how blood is formed in humans by studying human blood stem and progenitor cells. We are particularly interested in hematopoietic stem cell (HSC) heterogeneity at the functional and molecular levels, how HSC quiescence is maintained, and how the HSC pool changes over a person’s lifetime. Since I have started my own laboratory, I find it very rewarding to see different projects unfold and trainees progress on their educational and career paths.
What led you to become a scientist and to stem cell research?
I was drawn to science from an early age. My father worked as an engineer building particle detectors for physicists. In high school, I had an extremely engaging biology teacher, who got us all to do experiments on a regular basis. It was so much fun to learn new things through experimentation. After a Masters in general biology I chose to join a lab working on stem cells because I was fascinated by the versatility of these cells and how fundamental they are to the development and maintenance of a whole organ. To date, I am still amazed at the regenerative capacity of HSCs: you can transplant one lonely single cell and months later it has reconstituted the entire blood system. Watching this unfold with your own eyes is truly incredible.
What is the most exciting aspect of your work?
The thrill of the discovery: finding out how experiments have worked out and if the results help us add one extra piece to the puzzle of understanding how HSCs work. There is often disappointment, but then there is the challenge of finding the next question and figuring out how all the pieces of evidence come together in a coherent picture. And sometimes there are findings that make it at all worthwhile! No matter what, there is always something new to learn.
What guidance would you share in talking with trainees interested in pursuing your area of research?
Be creative, have perseverance, and enjoy every opportunity to reach out to other scientists and share your work from the earliest stages of your career. This way you will build a network of scientists you trust and get exciting new ideas.
Do you have any mentors or individuals who have inspired you in your stem cell work?
Absolutely, there are many individuals who have made a big difference in my career. I am endlessly thankful to my supervisors, who supported (and keep supporting) me so well. Over the years I have also learnt so much, both at the professional and personal level, from working closely with amazing individuals at all stages of their careers: undergrad students, PhD students, post-docs, senior scientists, PIs, flow cytometrists, and clinicians. Some of these have become my closest friends and there is something really rewarding about this. They have taught me that an environment that fosters interaction, inclusiveness, flexibility, and scientific rigor is so important to achieve progress in this field while retaining a good balance with other aspects of life. There are also a number of women and men that I know less well but I really look up to as “role models of stem cell biology”.
How do you spend your free time?
I love cooking, going out for walks, visiting museums, and enjoying time with my family and friends.
What is something your peers would be surprised to learn about you?
During my undergrad, I kept a pet slug for more than 3 weeks in my apartment before I released it in the wild. I was astonished by how much salad these things can eat.
What do you most value about your membership with the ISSCR?
The comprehensive overview we can gain from attending the annual and the regional meetings, and the unrivalled opportunity to catch up with the whole community as well as with our own friends. Also, the society promotes core values of scientific excellence for stem cell research which I believe are crucial for this field to truly achieve its potential.