Meet the scientist: Elisabetta Ferretti – University of Copenhagen

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24 April 2017

Meet the scientist: Elisabetta Ferretti

meet the scientist

Elisabetta Ferretti joined DanStem in November 2013 as a new group leader. The aim of her research group is to better understand how cell signaling pathways and transcription factor networks interact during early embryonic development

In this short interview, we have asked Associate Professor Elisabetta Ferretti a few questions to better understand her research focus and motivation.

When did you become interested in science?

My interest since I was a student, at San Raffaele Hospital, Milan, has always been the study of gene regulation and the dissection of the gene regulatory networks that governs organogenesis. Elucidation of these pathways remains one of the most fascinating questions of biology, since their perturbation results in congenital and degenerative diseases. Given the TALE transcription factors, Pbx (Pbx1, Pbx2, Pbx3), Meis and Prep they are master regulators of morphogenesis, patterning and organ development in mammal development. During my Postdoctoral training at Cornell Medical College, NYC, I used them as molecular system to address these questions. Specifically, PBX gene dysregulation has been associated with human pathologies such as cleft lip and palate, congenital asplenia, diabetes, and several types of cancers. I used Pbx mouse mutants, which have defective hindbrain, as a model to study how the nervous system develops. I discovered a novel Pbx-dependent molecular mechanism governing mesodermal retinoic acid levels, which in turn controls hindbrain development. Furthermore, using a combination of genetic, and biochemical approaches, and mouse models for cleft lip and palate (CL/P), I identified a novel Pbx-Wnt-p63-Irf6 network controlling face formation. Disruptions within this network lead to CL/P, which is the most common craniofacial birth defect. Using a genetic rescue approach, I was able to repair the CL/P in the mutants. These results have opened new avenues for treatment of human CL/P in utero.

What are you interested in? what are the scientific questions you wish to answer?

The ambition of my research program is to unravel the complex decision making network that controls cell fate. Specifically, I intend to address how mesodermal progenitors (MPs) arise and what are the molecular mechanisms and networks driving mesoderm specification. Mesodermal derived tissues represent the most abundant type of tissue in the human body. Several degenerative diseases affect MPs, such as muscular dystrophy, end stage blood and kidney diseases. Therefore, there is a need of methods to efficiently produce MPs for therapeutic approaches. I intend of combine in vitro differentiation systems and genetic studies in mouse models to dissect the molecular mechanisms and networks directing mesoderm differentiation. I aim to develop novel systems to make differentiation more predictable and controlled and for the first time be able to efficiently generate specific mesodermal types, thereby reaching the highest objectives in the stem biology field.

What is unique in working at DanStem?

I think the passion, genuine interest in your work and resilience are keys for successes. All the group leaders at DanStem are driven by an authentic enthusiasm for science that is contagious. DanStem is an ambitious, collaborative and highly organized scientific Center where everyone is engaged to build a functional and positive environment. Thus, DanStem is the ideal working environment for accomplishing outstanding science, establishing collaboration and initiating new projects, all of which are critical aspects for a new group leader.

What are the most important factors for you at a work place?

I believe that a collaborative environment is critical for a good scientific environment. When the hypothesis under investigation requires innovative efforts than cooperation and multidisciplinary approaches become essential aspects. Actually, one of the most enjoyable part to be a scientist is to work in a collaborative team where everyone synergizes providing its own expertize to reach the target.

Could you tell us something interesting/surprising about yourself?

I like doing sports, not watching but the actual activity. Back in Italy I was part of a scuba diving school. I love the feeling of being weightless while diving, you feel as if you are flying. Moreover, I am a runner, a long-distance runner. I ran several times at NYC, Boston and also Copenhagen marathons. I think that, a good run can sometimes clear up your mind and make you feel like a brand-new person. So, now that the good season is back, get out and enjoy a run.

Elisabetta Ferretti is the co-organizer of the Stem Cell Club.

Find out more about the Ferretti Group