What is your area of expertise and the current focus of your research?My research is focused on neural stem cells (NSCs) and the process by which they generate new neurons throughout life in distinct areas of the mammalian brain, called adult neurogenesis. This process is associated with physiologic brain function, but has also been implicated in a number of diseases, such as epilepsy and major depression. Our research aims to understand the cellular and molecular mechanisms regulating neural stem cell activity and to characterize the functional role of adult neurogenesis on a behavioral level.
Additionally, our laboratory aims to understand how physiologic and disease-associated alterations (e.g., in rodent models of depression and anxiety) of the neurogenic niche are translated into stem cell-associated plastic changes of the adult brain and how we can utilize adult NSCs for endogenous brain repair in demyelinating diseases such as multiple sclerosis. To reach these aims, we use virus- and transgenesis-based approaches as well as cellular models of human diseases using pluripotent embryonic stem cells.
What led you down the path to becoming a stem cell scientist?My original plan was to become a clinician, but after studying medicine, I decided to become a postdoc to get more experience in research. I was extremely fortunate to have been accepted into Rusty Gage’s laboratory at Salk. He was, and still is, an important teacher and mentor, and because of him and the excitement in his lab, I chose to remain in science.
And now you are in a position to mentor others…Yes, most of my time now is spent directing the research of others, and I am very close to the PhD and postdoc students in my lab. When I started this position, I was very nervous about my role in shaping their futures. Now, I’m more relaxed, as I see them going on to good careers. Their success is one of my personal measures of success.
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?Most of my free time is spent with family and friends. Living in Zurich feels like living in a village, but we are still able to enjoy the cultural life and other conveniences of a big city. We often go to the mountains for skiing and hiking (though, I wish I could combine this with SoCal surfing).
What is one thing your peers would be surprised to learn about you?How little I work (but maybe they shouldn’t know that). I am fortunate to have flexibility now, which has not always been the case. It makes it easier to balance work and family; my children are nine and six. I try to be understanding of my students with children, because I know what it is like to be a postdoc.
What do you gain from your membership with ISSCR?I benefit a lot from the science in the journals published by, or in cooperation with, ISSCR. These offer a great platform for presenting our research, as does ISSCR Connect, on which I was recently invited to deliver a web-based lecture.
Are you planning to attend the ISSCR Annual Meeting in Vancouver?Yes, I plan to attend. In the past, the ISSCR meeting has turned out to be a great opportunity to informally share ideas and concepts with others in the field. This year, I will use the opportunity to discuss with colleagues novel concepts my lab is trying to formulate based on findings that suggest how cellular age is segregated in the context of somatic stem cell division.