Member Spotlights

Daniel Besser square

Daniel Besser, PhD

Jun 6, 2021

Hometown: Lübeck, Germany
Current residence: Berlin, Germany
Graduate degree: PhD, University Basel, Switzerland
Current position: Managing Director of the German Stem Cell Network (GSCN), Berlin

What is the current focus of your research, and what do you find most rewarding about your work?

The German Stem Cell Network (GSCN) aims to provide an interface between science, education, politics, and society as a whole. The central task of the GSCN is to pool the expertise in stem cell research in Germany and develop synergies between basic research, regenerative medicine, and pharmacology. The initiative promotes innovative research activities on a national and international level. Targeted information and events are offered, encouraging public discourse on stem cell research. As the Managing Director I oversee all the activities of the network and support the Executive and Extended Boards of the GSCN in developing new initiatives. I also lay the ground work for the GSCN Annual Conference and workshops.

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

Even back in my final years of high school I had Biology as a major and was fascinated by genes and genomes, and their potential to create a perfect organism with one genome in all of its billion cells. That’s when I made my decision: I wanted to study biology with a focus on molecular mechanisms in cells. I was accepted at the Free University Berlin and could follow my dream. I studied gene regulation and continued with signal transduction in my graduate work at the Friedrich-Miescher-Institut in Basel and postdoctoral work at Rockefeller University. After the team of Jamie Thomson isolated the first human embryonic stem cells (hESC) in 1998, for the first time researchers were able to glimpse into early human development--which had up till then eluded scientific experimentation. This also sparked my curiosity, and I was very happy when I had the chance to work with these cells in the laboratory of Ali H. Brivanlou starting 2003. I had studied signal transduction of Stat proteins at the time with James Darnell and we wanted to know which role Stat3/gp130 signaling had in hESCs. We realized early on that this signaling pathway was indeed not as important in hESCs as in its mouse counterparts, but we identified Activin/Nodal signaling as well as inhibition of BMP signaling as extremely important. Since the time in Ali’s lab, embryonic stem cells were at the core of my scientific work, and continue to fascinate me. 

What is the most exciting aspect of your work?

Overseeing the tremendous progress in the different areas of stem cell research--from basic research to translation into applications--as well as interacting and educating the public and stakeholders on stem cells research is very satisfying and exciting for me in my current position as Managing Director of the GSCN.

What guidance would you share in talking with trainees interested in pursuing your area of research?

Stay open to all directions that your experimentation might take you. Know the literature well, but always take publications with a grain of salt, especially if your own results lead you in a different direction. Make good friends in the science world; they might be able to help you along your career path, as you might be able to help them in future endeavours.

Do you have any mentors or individuals who have inspired you in your stem cell work?

I’m extremely thankful to my PhD supervisor Yoshikuni Nagamine during my time at the Friedrich Miescher Institute (FMI) in Basel for giving me the freedom and the guidance to pursue my scientific ambition. Of course, many more persons significantly influenced my path in science. I’m truly grateful for the opportunity to have worked with the late Hidesaburo Hanafusa and James E. Darnell at Rockefeller as well as to stay at Rockefeller during very exciting times with many amazing scientists. I’m very thankful to Ali H. Brivanlou who introduced me to the world of stem cells and early vertebrate development, as well as Walter Birchmeier at the Max Delbrück Center for giving me the opportunity to start my own scientific projects.

How do you spend your free time?

I enjoy camping and outdoor life in the country side around Berlin and in other countries especially in the family holiday home in Sweden with our VW bus. I love watersports like kayaking, sailing, and taking the SUP (Stand-Up-Paddle board) for a spin.

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

During a family holiday in Finland back in the last millennium, it must have been in the ‘70s, I learned how to count to 10 in Finnish and I still remember: Yksi, kaksi, kolme…

What do you most value about your membership with the ISSCR?

The ISSCR is THE international association to connect with the world of stem cell research and with all researchers globally. The ISSCR annual meeting is the place to be if you want to network, get new ideas, learn new technologies, interact with companies in the field and most of all make new acquaintances and meet old colleagues.


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Careers in Industry

Career talks featured at ISSCR’s VISION2030 event, focused on opportunities for a decade ahead. 

BlueRock Therapeutics | Career Talks

Panel discussion with Timsi Rao, Scientist III, Genome Sciences and Stephany Sakharny, Senior Human Resources Manager of BlueRock Therapeutics.

STEMCELL Technologies | Career Talks

Panel discussion with Christine Genge, Manager, Recruitment and Nina Quiskamp, Scientist of STEMCELL Technologies.

ElevateBio | Career Talks

Panel discussion with Cherylene Plewa, PhD, VP, Cellular Engineering and Austin Thiel, PhD, Director Stem Cell Biology of ElevateBio.

ISSCR 2020 Virtual Videos

Junior Investigator Career Panel

Finding Your Fit: Defining Goals and Taking Action to Achieve Long-term

Moderator: Evan Graham, ISSCR Junior Investigators Committee, CELLINK
Panelists: Heather Duffy, Creative Innovation Consulting, Steve Kattman, Sana Biotechnology, Danijela Menicanin, University of Adelaide, and Itedale Namro Redwan, CELLINK.

Despite how it can sometimes appear, the path to a satisfying career is rarely straightforward. Are you currently asking yourself “How do I decide on a career path?” If so, join us for an in-depth panel discussion about how individual definitions for success and failure can help you identify your goals, adjust to setbacks, determine when it’s time to make a change, and what steps to take now to achieve your long-term goals. This casual event hosted by the Junior Investigator Committee is intended to foster frank conversation about how to assess career decisions early on.

Early Career Group Leader Panel

Re-Defining the Success of Your Lab in Changing Times: Productivity, Motivation and Enrichment

Moderator: Josh Currie, Co-chair, ISSCR Junior Investigators Committee, Wake Forest University
Panelists: Valentina Greco, Yale Stem Cell Center, Yale Medical School, Konrad Hochedlinger, Massachusetts General Hospital, and Joanna Wysocka, Stanford University.

Even prior to lab shutdowns, you might have often been awake at night feeling anxious about the success of your trainees and your projects. With bench research and much of science at a standstill, how can PIs regain perspective and purpose to re-define a thriving lab? This event is organized for early career PIs to learn tools and tips from more senior ISSCR scientists about how to get the most out of your lab. We will address topics such as setting up a strong lab culture from the beginning, enriching the lab experience to make your team the most productive, and recruiting the best people to improve motivation and promote strong research. Additionally, this event is meant to foster conversation about how to support, motivate, and train lab members under these exceptional circumstances. Come join us to learn, share, and discuss different recipes for a successful lab.