What is the current focus of your research, and what do you find most rewarding about your work?
In a nutshell, I am interested in understanding the specific conditions that allow HSCs to form during embryonic development, and to successfully recreate these conditions in the lab so that HSCs may be generated. I am particularly interested in how low oxygen levels (hypoxia) may be an important factor for HSCs to form. Since we cannot study human embryonic development directly we instead use cultures of pluripotent stem cells that we differentiate towards blood in the lab.Having just started working as a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Edinburgh, what I find most rewarding is that, while I can broaden my laboratory skills to include working with mouse cells in addition to human cells, I am able to continue doing research pursuing a theory from my PhD time that I think may be an important step towards finally generating functional HSC in vitro.
What led you to become a scientist and to stem cell research?The first time I really felt a particular drive towards any subject was in high school when I got a university graduate as a temporary biology teacher. He had a genuine interest in biology and he taught it with such enthusiasm that it really left an impression on me.
I can’t say that it was clear to me from the start that I wanted to become a scientist. I just loved to study the topics that I was interested in and to be part of university life. I progressed through my bachelor in chemistry and molecular biology, and during this time I also incorporated 1 year of studies in Japanese. I did not know it right then but studying Japanese would later allow me to do my master degree project, through international exchange, at the Tohoku University in Japan. As I spent almost a year in Japan I was finally getting my first real experience working in a lab, and this period made it clear to me that becoming a scientist was what I truly wanted. Once back in Sweden I immediately enrolled in the preparatory program for PhD studies, and while it has been a long and sometimes tough journey I have never regretted it. I think I am very lucky to have found a profession that I can feel passionate about.
How do you spend your free time?
What is something your peers would be surprised to learn about you?For foreigners, Swedish people can sometimes appear to be a bit introvert and difficult to talk to but I don’t think that description works for me. I am quite extrovert, got a unhinged sense of humour and tend to break the ice quickly when I meet new colleagues. I think that people who meet me for the first time sometimes get the initial impression that I am a bit odd. If I have an interesting or funny story to tell I generally go ahead and share that (without modification) no matter if I am talking with juniors or seniors. It usually takes a week or two before people get used to that but I think it does make the social aspect at work more relaxed. At conferences or seminars I usually
don’t hesitate to throw myself into approaching colleagues that I haven’t met before, and the networking part has actually grown into something that I enjoy just as much as the science. Something else that few people would know about me is that I also know how to dance (both salsa and bachata).
What do you like most about living and working where you do?
I have only lived in Edinburgh for a couple of months but I already love it. It’s not the sunniest of places but the people are very friendly and easy to talk to. With massive hills in and around the city, and with the ocean close by, the views are amazing. The 433 year old University puts a very academic feel to the city and students and other academics can be seen everywhere. The near airport makes international travelling easy, and if I wan’t to visit friends and colleagues in London or in Cambridge I just need to get on the train for a few hours.
What do you value most about your membership with the ISSCR?
Being a member of the ISSCR, and to attend the annual meetings, is a great way to get the most out of being a stem cell researcher. The scientific feedback gained at these meetings, and importantly the networking with others, have in many ways affected how my career developed. The wide range of stem cell research presented at these conferences provide a great opportunity to get new ideas and to meet people that may become future colleagues or collaborators. Furthermore, the ISSCR put an emphasis on the need to establish clear ethical guidelines regarding stem cell research. Because of all this I became interested in getting involved, and as a new member of ISSCR’s Junior Investigator Committee I hope that I can help to better forward the potential of stem cell research.