This week`s employee – Simona Chera

What are you working on?

I work as an associate professor at the Center for Diabetes Research, K2. My research is directed at how cell death features govern the type of regenerative strategy employed by a biological system. By coupling classical and newly generated murine models of cell loss with genetic cell tracing, timed conditional gene expression and omics assays (transcriptomics, proteomics, scRNAseq), I study the dynamic molecular fingerprint of pancreatic islet cells decay and regeneration, with focus on self-renewal and global regulators of cell identity maintenance processes. Besides the in vivo approach, I use patient-specific induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSC) as disease models coupled with large-scale imaging and omics for studying islet cell fate acquisition and maintenance. We are also developing a 3D culture system to investigate the influence of mechanical forces and adhesion on signaling pathways controlling the pancreatic progenitors’ differentiation potential. Our goal is to enlarge the knowledge base about pancreatic islet biology in order to create a better treatment for diabetes, or preventive measures in the future. My personal goal is to induce at least a certain level of endogenous regeneration of the pancreatic islets as seen in highly regenerative animals (like hydra, salamander or fish). My career started by working on such a successful regenerative system, and during my PhD work at University of Geneva, we described that apoptotic cells resulted upon injury were the source of regenerative signals. During my postdoctoral work (University of Geneva), I started working on pancreatic islet regeneration and showed that the mammalian pancreas also exhibits, at a very low level, an endogenous regenerative capacity. A better understanding of how islet cells are formed during development will also improve future regenerative strategies.

What do you enjoy working with at K2?

I started working here five years ago, which gave me the opportunity to get to know the tools and needs of clinical research. I am part of a very heterogeneous multidisciplinary group of researchers, integrating genomics, molecular and cellular biology, bioinformatics and clinical research. We all study diabetes but different aspects of the disease from the molecular mechanisms to clinical aspects. I like the challenge of learning how to effectively communicate with scientists from different disciplines, and to see the diabetes research from so many other points of view. Being so close to the clinics at K2 also changed my perspective over my own research, especially regarding motivation and impact.

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