Henrik Semb – University of Copenhagen

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Henrik Semb

DanStem Executive Director, Professor of Human Stem Cell Biology


Link to the Semb Laboratory Homepage

Research Profile

With a career spanning over 15 years Henrik Semb’s multi-disciplinary approach to research has contributed to the advancement of several scientific fields. The lab has used a combination of in vivo and in vitro tools to decipher a range of cellular mechanisms, from tumor cell invasion and metastasis, to basic mechanisms in morphogenesis and differentiation during organogenesis. Presently the Semb group focuses on pancreas development and disease using a combination of developmental biology and stem cell research. Mouse models provide novel in vivo insights into the requirements for pancreatic progenitor cell (PPC) differentiation, which can be used to enhance beta cell differentiation protocols. Conversely, in vitro cultures of PPCs can provide a more malleable setting in which to test cellular mechanisms driving in vivo differentiation. As director of the Danish Stem Cell Centre (Danstem) Henrik encourages an integrated research environment both between and within research groups. Only through this unified multidimensional approach to research will we be able to fully comprehend beta cell dysfunction and generate transplantable beta cells for type 1 diabetes therapy.

Awards and Honours

Henrik Semb’s productivity and scientific achievements in pancreas development and the beta cell biology field have been recognized by many international and national grant-awarding bodies throughout his research career, including; the EU, EMBO, Swedish Foundation for Strategic Research, the Swedish Government, the US National Institute of Health (NIH) and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. Currently Henrik is the Executive Director of Danstem, which is funded by the Novo Nordisk Foundation for a 10-year period (Section for Basic Stem Cell Biology [BasicStem]). In parallel Henrik established a Section for Strategic Translational Stem Cell Research and Therapy (TransStem) with a 6-year grant from the Danish Council for Strategic Research. For his work investigating the role of polarity during pancreas progenitor cell differentiation he was awarded a 3-year grant from the Danish Council for Independent Research Medical Sciences (FSS). Most recently, a collaborative project headed by Henrik, with the aim of achieving robust generation of functional beta cells from hPSCs, was awarded a 4-year grant from the EU FP7, HEALTH organization (HumEn). In 2016 Lundbeck awarded a 3-year project grant to the Semb lab to investigate how an endocrine cell’s niche directs fate choice to specific hormone producing differentiated cells.

Other Scientific Contributions

In addition to establishing and overseeing the development of the centre and coordinating research within his lab, Henrik is also committed to engaging in the wider stem cell and pancreas research field. Henrik has served as a member of the International Stem Cell Initiative steering committee and serves as an Editorial Board member of Stem Cells.

Supervision of doctoral theses and postdoctoral fellows

The Semb lab is a well established, thriving research environment that has fostered the careers of many scientists. Currently Henrik has supervised a total of 23 Postdoctoral Fellows (7 present), and 17 PhD students (4 present).

Scientific Alumni:

  • Dr Oliver Lieven - Lecturer  at the University of Münster,
  • Dr Elin Jaensson Gyllenbäck - Senior Research Scientist at BioInvent International AB,
  • Dr Pedro Rifes - Post.Doc at the University of Copenhagen, Agnete Kirkeby Lab,
  • Dr Gokul Kesavan - Post.Doc at Technische Universität Dresden,
  • Dr Fredrik Wolfhagen-Sand - Senior Research Scientist at Novo Nordisk AS,
  • Dr. Thomas Greiner - Researcher at the University of Gothenburg,
  • Dr. Martina Johanesson - Researcher, currently unemployed,
  • Dr. Jenny Ekberg - QA Professional at Novo Nordisk,
  • Dr. Yvonne Fisher - Managing Editor at Stem Cell Reports,
  • Dr. Siqin Wu - Researcher at Spiber Technologies AB,
  • Dr. Sune Kobberup - Senior Research Scientist at Novo Nordisk AS,
  • Dr. Maria Kraft - Scientific Officer at Novo Nordisk Foundation,
  • Dr. Katja Hess - Investigation Manager at Sandoz GmbH,
  • Dr. Jenny Johansson - Post Doc at Lund University,
  • Dr. Karin Norrman - Senior Research Scientist at Novo Nordisk AS,
  • Dr. Gabriella Brolén - Team Leader at Astra Zeneca, Göteborg,
  • Dr. Wan Chun Li - Assistant Professor, Department of Dentistry, National Yang Ming University,
  • Dr. Anders Ståhlberg - Associate Professor at the University of Gothernburg,
  • Dr. Josefina Edsbagge - Senior Scientist, Team Leader at Cellectis,
  • Dr. Xiaojie Xian - Researcher at Lund University,
  • Dr. Maria Harrie (Hammarström) - Clinical researcher at McNeil AB,  
  • Dr. Farzad Esni - Associate Professor of Surgery at the University of Pittsburgh,
  • Dr. Dahl - Senior research engineer at Umeå University,
  • Dr. Damert - Group leader at Babes-Bolyai-University, Romania,
  • Dr. Håkansson - SP technical Institute of Sweden, Medical device technology.

Entrepreneurial Achievements

Professor.Semb acted as a scientific advisor within Cellartis AB, a company which he co-founded. Cellartis was a Gothenburg based SME with 62 employees and an annual revenue of €6million that commercialized various human ES cell applications. Cellartis was purchased by Cellectis (France) in 2011, Cellectis was subsequently bought in 2014 by Takara bio inc.

As part of a 3-party collaboration between Lund University (Semb), Novo Nordisk a/s and Cellartis/Cellectis Henrik worked to develop a hESC-based cell therapy for diabetes (2008-2013).

Publications and Patents

Total number of published, peer reviewed publications and reviews: 68, H-factor: 39
Total number of patents applied for and/or granted: 8, of note are patents by Mamidi and Semb (Oct 2016) that describe a “method for differentiation of cells into insulin-producing cells and a method for treating a metabolic disorder”. Also that of Ameri and Semb (Oct 2016) that details an ‘invention that relates to a method for isolating bona fide pancreatic progenitor cells’.

Key Recent Discoveries

  • Wolfhagen Sand, F., Hörnblad, A., Johansson, J.K., Lorén, C., Edsbagge, J., Ståhlberg, A., Magenheim, J., Ilovich, O., Mishani, E., Dor,Y., Proia, R.L., Ahlgren, U. and Semb, H. Growth-limiting role of endothelial cells in endoderm development. Dev Biol, 15, 267-77, 2011.

    The discovery that endothelial cells limit progenitor cell expansion in several foregut-derived organs.                                                                                                                                  
  • Ameri, J., Ståhlberg, A., Pedersen, J., Johansson, J.K., Johannesson, M., Artner, I., and Semb, H. FGF2 Specifies hESC-Derived Definitive Endoderm into Foregut/Midgut Cell Lineages in a Concentration Dependent Manner. Stem Cells, 28, 45-56, 2010.

    The identification of how FGF signalling in a concentration-dependent manner controls specification of hESC-derived definitive endoderm into liver, pancreas and lung endoderm.
  • Kesavan, G., Wolfhagen Sand, F., Greiner, T., Johansson, J., Kobberup, S., Wu, X., Brakebusch, C., and Semb, H. Cdc42-mediated tubulogenesis controls cell specification. Cell, 139, 791-801, 2009.

    The identification of the molecular machinery that controls tube formation and how tubes controls cell specification.
  • Xian, X., Håkansson, J., Lindblom, P., Betsholtz, C., Gerhardt, H., and Semb, H. Pericytes limit tumor cell metastasis. J. Clin. Invest. 116, 642-51, 2006.

    The identification of a new model for how tumor cells trigger metastasis by perturbing pericyte-endothelial cell-cell interactions                                              

Possible Conflicts of Interest

Henrik has founded the company Diastem A/B. Diastem is largely a consultant company with Henrik Semb as the sole person in the company.