I am a molecular biologist backed by many years of work in the areas of developmental biology, neuroscience and regenerative medicine. As a child I dreamed of becoming a veterinarian, but during high school I was drawn to biochemistry – and the idea of becoming a researcher. Then, I began my university studies in biochemistry and started my first contact with the scientific world in the groups of Dr. Jaume Reventos and Dr. Francina Munell in Barcelona. Before finishing my degree, I had the great opportunity to spend some time in the laboratory of Dr. Kazuhiko Imakawa at the University of Tokyo. After finishing my degree, I moved to Milan, Italy, to the laboratory of Dr. Francesco Blasi to start a PhD in biochemistry and molecular biology and co-supervised by Dr. Riaz Farookhi, at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, in the area of developmental biology. Then, when I was about to finish my PhD studies, in 2007, I realized that I wanted to focus on something more applied: translational between basic research in neuroscience and clinical application. This led me to the Karolinska Institutet to work on stem cell research, and to the laboratory of Dr. Ernest Arenas who is devoted to stem cell research to develop cell replacement therapies for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease. Over the last years, I have moved into a new and fascinating area of research to model psychiatric disorders such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and depression with patient-derived stem cells.
Bachelor Degree in Biochemistry by the Universitat Autonoma Barcelona.
PhD in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology under the supervision of Dr. Francesco Blasi (IFOM Institute, Milan, Italy) and Dr. Riaz Farookhi (McGill University, Montreal, Canada).
FEBS-Postdoctoral Fellow in the group of Dr. Ernest Arenas (MBB Department, Karolinska Institutet).
Over the past years, we have studied the role of several homeobox genes during the genesis and development of different types of dopaminergic neurons, the involvement of these genes in neurodegeneration, and the possible implications in Parkinson’s disease. The main goal was to develop cell replacement therapies for the treatment of Parkinson's disease. Our focus now is to model psychiatric disorders with patient-derived stem cells.
PSYCHIATRIC STEM CELL GROUP:
Our multidisciplinary team together with our collaborators has a solid background in neurobiology, psychiatric disorders, human embryonic stem cells and patient-derived stem cells (iPSC), and cell replacement therapies for neuroregeneration.
It is very difficult to obtain live neurons from patients affected with psychiatric disorders. Our group is using human-cell-based models to generate nearly limitless quantities of live patient-derived mature neurons to identify cellular and molecular defects associated to psychiatric disorders. Patient-derived iPSCs and subsequently in vitro differentiation into neurons provide the opportunity to study enough patient-derived material to identify neuronal alterations and to develop novel therapeutic approaches.
Bipolar Disorder is characterized by recurrent episodes of depression and mania that causes unusual shifts in mood and results in damaged social relationships and poor job performance. Unfortunately, suicide is a leading cause of death in patients with bipolar disorder. Our group is developing a translational project merging clinical and basic research and disease modelling by patient-derived iPSCs to identify novel biomarkers to predict the success of pharmacological treatments for bipolar disorder. The molecular mechanism related to lithium response is one of our main focuses.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common childhood disorders. Symptoms include difficulty staying focused and paying attention, difficulty controlling behaviour, and hyperactivity. Our group is developing cellular models by patient-derived iPSCs to identify cellular and molecular phenotypes to understand the origin and progression of ADHD. By comparing patient-specific cellular phenotypes between patients who respond to different drugs we aim to discover novel biomarkers to support diagnostics and predictors of treatment response.
Gene Editing Technologies. The list of genetic variants associated to psychiatric disorders grows continuously. Our approach is to simplify the problem by focusing our research on genetic variations that are more penetrant. We apply gene editing technologies to generate isogenic iPSC cell lines that can provide excellent tools to identify neuronal phenotypes directly associated to the selected genetic variations.
Karol Kaiser (PhD student)
Vincent Millischer (PhD student)
Fanny Huvig (master student)
Dr. Martin Schalling, CMM, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden.
Dr. Roger Barker, CBR Institute, University of Cambridge, UK.
Dr. Licia Selleri, Cornell University, New York, USA.
Dr. David Hicks, Department of Neurobiology of Rhythms, ICIN, Strasbourg, France.
Dr. Elisabet Villela, Psychiatric Hospital Pere Mata, Rovira i Virgili University, Reus, Spain.
Dr. Anna Falk, Neuroscience Department, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden.
Dr. Tibor Harkany, Center for Brain Research, Medical University of Vienna, Austria.