Airways, Skin and Encouragement

– About Pulmonary Regeneration, Epithelial Stem Cells and Meeting the Right People

Interview with Senior Research Associate Adam Giangreco, University College London, UCL Centre for Respiratory Research, UK at the Stem Cell Niche Conference, June 2012.

Adam Giangreco’s research is focused on repairing damaged airways, particularly large airways damaged from smoking, burn, or chronic infections. Together with his research team, he studies the role of different cells in repairing and regenerating the airways. As a natural extension of this, Adam Giangreco also investigates whether chronic infection and injury increases the risks of lung cancer - and if the processes that drive lung cancer can be tied to the same cells that are active in pulmonary regeneration.

Adam Giangreco began his research within airway homeostasis and repair. Together with his PhD supervisor, he discovered some of the earliest progenitor cells responsible for repairing airways.

After his PhD, he went on to do research in the area of skin regeneration focused on epithelial stem cells, i.e. the cells that form tissues that line the cavities and surfaces of the body. While doing research within the area of skin regeneration, he also did work on carcinogenesis – the process by which normal cells are transformed into cancer cells. The research on epithelial stem cells and carcinogenesis is also part of Adam Giangreco’s current research:

“I remained interested in the airways. I felt that it was something that was less well studied, but clinically a bigger problem as more people are dying of lung cancer than skin cancer. Today, I am with my own group applying some of the work I have done in skin to the airways.”

Adam Giangreco describes his research as fundamental, basic research but located within a clinical department, where most of the researchers are true translational clinical bio-scientists, who have a real focus and see patients on a daily or weekly basis. Working in this context impacts his way of working:

“This has really shifted my work and my thinking more towards how fundamentals of regenerative airway epithelium biology can impact on patients and clinical practice.“

But how come Adam Giangreco decided on a career within stem cell research? As an undergraduate student he liked both science and English literature, and it was a coincidence of fortunate circumstances that brought him into stem cell biology:

“I was working in the lab of the supervisor I ended up doing my PhD with – I was just doing the dishes. He invited me to lab meetings and was very encouraging with me. The lab meetings developed my interest on a more professional level, but it could have gone either way. That has been the case in every stages of my career. You meet people, make friends, share reagents and ideas and then you sort of build from there.”

For Adam Giangreco, the Stem Cell Niche Conference has also been a good place for meeting people and sharing ideas:

“One of the advantages of conferences like this is the extended break times where you can go out and meet people. Some of the people I know and some I don’t. It is a mixed of more junior and well-established people, but everyone is very interactive and friendly. I’ve met new people in the field and I’ve heard about topics different from what I normally hear about. It makes you think about your own work and forces you to think about different interpretations of your own data.”