What is the current focus of your research, and what do you find most rewarding about your work?
My current research focuses on the mechanisms of reprogramming cell identity and how we can engineer relevant cell types for therapeutic application. However, my lab is becoming more interested in how cell identity is established and maintained, bringing my focus back to developmental biology. If we can fully understand how cell identity is normally established, this will help us reprogram cell identity with higher efficiency and fidelity. This goal has taken us into developing experimental and computational single-cell technologies to measure and manipulate cell identity. I find it most rewarding to create these tools and share them with the community.
What led you to become a scientist and to stem cell research?
I trained as a developmental biologist, studying germ layer formation in Xenopus laevis development. I then switched to lineage tracing (by live imaging, with Magda Zernicka-Goetz) the first cell fate decisions in early mouse development. At that point, I became curious about forcing cells to adopt specific identities - this is when I became interested in reprogramming and joined George Daley's lab.
What is the most exciting aspect of your work?
One of the most exciting aspects for me is developing new techniques and applying them to study cell differentiation and reprogramming. When I was starting my lab in 2015, high-throughput single-cell RNA sequencing was becoming more accessible. We needed to use this technology to study reprogramming as the successful conversion of cells is such a rare event - we need to sequence many, many cells. This, in turn, led us to develop new lineage tracing technologies to pinpoint the origins of successfully reprogrammed cells, along with new computational tools to make better sense of the data we generate.
What guidance would you share in talking with trainees interested in pursuing your area of research?
Don't be afraid of learning how to code; even a little can help you navigate some of the fantastic analysis tools that are out there (and are frequently accompanied by helpful tutorials) - and don't be afraid of asking people for help with this. I think it's essential to have some understanding of how your data is processed. Conversely, if you don't know how the data is generated, get into the lab and watch the experiments. It's helpful for both sides, wet and dry, to appreciate how to work together most efficiently, and can inform better experimental design.
Do you have any mentors or individuals who have inspired you in your stem cell work?
Allon Klein and Barbara Treutlein, two incredible quantitative developmental/stem cell biologists. Every preprint or paper from their groups goes straight to the top of the lab reading list!
How do you spend your free time?
Exploring good food and good wine, with a bit of Peloton for balance. Former ISSCR President George Daley is responsible for my keen interest in wine.
What is something your peers would be surprised to learn about you?
My peers are often surprised when they hear me speak and realize that I'm originally from the UK.
What do you most value about your membership with the ISSCR?
I value the support from ISSCR to create new communities. For example, with Christine Wells, Patrick Cahan, and Owen Rackham, we recently established a Computational Stem Cell Biology group. ISSCR recently hosted a series of seminars for the group, which we hope will help build a community around the application of computational methods in stem cell biology.