Dr. Christine Mummery pioneered studies on cardiomyocytes from human embryonic stem cells and was among the first to inject them in mouse hearts after myocardial infarction. In 2007, she was a joint Harvard Stem Cell Institute/Radcliffe fellow.
She is presently on the board of ISSCR, President of the International Society of Differentiation and an elected member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Science.
1. When did you first realize you wanted to be a scientist?
I'm not sure it was actually a decision: I was better at maths, physics and chemistry than in languages so I took those. It was only as a postdoc that I actually started to enjoy research and got really excited waiting for the results of experiments. Seeing beating heart cells emerge from stem cells or neurites growing out under a time lapse film really clinched it.
2. Who is your scientific idol?
I'm a great fan of the work of Gordon Keller (who is extremely focused and a dedicated developer of differentiation protocols from a developmental perspective) and Lorenz Studer (who really understands that developing hiPSCs as disease models is about learning things we could not know in any other way, rather than just showing that we can recapitulate a disease, and looking for drugs to cure).
3. What’s the focus of your current work?
Creating cardiac and vascular disease models based on patient hiPSCs and targeting mutations in hESCs. Also, figuring out cardiac and vascular progenitor cell fate and factors that control it based on generating real time reporters in hESC and hiPSC.
4. Can you comment on challenges you may have faced as a woman in science, or that women in science face?
I must say I haven't met that many challenges as a woman in science than the average man might also face. It's a pretty tough job sometimes competing for money and papers but in this respect, men seem to have much the same issues as women. Combining with family is challenging for any job (I am lucky to have 3 kids and an extremely flexible husband!) and working full time in the Netherlands as a mother is rather frowned upon but I would much rather have that than try to be a female scientist in a top university in the US. I did a sabbatical in Harvard and saw many women struggle incredibly with the demands of competition there. The life sciences and medicine are increasingly being occupied by women though, (now 70% of students here) so the field is feminizing. I think we are all wondering where this will go.
On PSC Research
1. What do you consider to be the most important advance(s) in stem cell research over the past 5 years?
The discovery of hiPSCs and their uses. And that some adult tissues have real progenitors that can grow and differentiate.
2. What advances do you hope the field will achieve in the next 5 years?
Disease models that will bring new insights and drugs into the clinic. In some ways this is the low hanging fruit for the field, as clinical applications will be quite challenging. ESCs are difficult, and iPSCs are even more difficult for this application, the exceptions perhaps being macular degeneration and diabetes, which seem to be progressing quite well.
3. Some recent studies have suggested important differences between iPS cells and ES cells, particularly in terms of their epigenetic marks. How similar do you see iPS cells and ES cells being, and what is your view of the potential of iPS cells for cell therapy and disease modeling?
A truly reprogrammed cell should be a ground state and not be affected by differentiation preferences. Both Austin Smith and Rudolph Jaenisch are working on trying to get hPSCs in the same "ground state" as mPSCs. Shinya Yamanaka has recently shown that if you compare a sufficient number of hESC and hiPSC lines, there are no significant differences; it is only if you compare just a few that differences become apparent. I kind of feel that result is right.
4. What are the main technical challenges currently facing the pluripotent field?
It's still establishing standardized differentiation protocols based on entirely defined media, preferably only with small molecules and not even growth factors.
1. How long have you been using mTeSR™1?
I cannot remember how long we've been using mTeSR™1; it's been several years now. We still keep hESC cultures on mouse embryonic fibroblasts (MEFs) but for scaled culture, we transfer to mTeSR™1.
It has been very useful for hiPSC cultures particularly, and we only use MEFs for those at the beginning, which saves a lot of time and effort. Batch to batch variability has wasted a lot of our time, and for this reason we would like all of our cultures to be entirely defined and serum-free (including differentiation).
I think we will continue to use it for hiPSCs because it is easy and works well. In fact, we give hiPSC culture courses and all of the protocols are based on mTeSR™1.
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