BRIC and DanStem welcomes new group leader Luis Arnes Perez – University of Copenhagen

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17 January 2019

BRIC and DanStem welcomes new group leader Luis Arnes Perez

In January 2019 BRIC and DanStem welcomed new junior group leader Luis Arnes Perez.

Since 2009, Arnes has been a postdoc at the Department of Genetics and Development and the Department of Systems Biology, Columbia University, where he worked on the transcriptional regulation of cellular plasticity using genetically modified mouse models. The position at BRIC/DanStem is his first junior group leader position. Arnes is formally hired by The Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Stem Cell Biology (DanStem), but his research group will be physically hosted at BRIC.

Molecular regulation of cellular identity in pancreas development and cancer

The overall goal of the Arnes group is to understand the molecular regulation of cellular identity in pancreas development and cancer and translate this knowledge into better diagnosis and treatment of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma:

-    Our research builds on the premise that cancer is a progressive loss of cellular identity. Terminally differentiated cells in the pancreas have the plasticity to adopt alternative cell fates through dedifferentiation and reprogramming. This cellular plasticity, although considered a physiological process of tissue homeostasis, renders the tissue susceptible to diseases, such as cancer and diabetes. Cell-type specific regulatory programs maintain the identity and function of mature cell types, and although we have a clear picture of the steady-state transcriptional and epigenetic landscape in development and disease, the molecular regulators of cell fate transitions are not well understood. Our goal is to define the mechanism controlling cellular plasticity in pancreas development and cancer, says Arnes.

"A group where all members are allowed to think out loud"

The desire to start his own research group arose early in Luis Arnes career and had continued to grow during his graduate and postgraduate studies at Columbia. Besides a strong passion for science, he is driven by the personal satisfaction he derives from managing scientific research projects and communicating his research to academic and non-academic audiences. Furthermore, he feels a strong responsibility to teach, train and mentor the next generation of scientists:

-    I always had in mind starting a group where all members are allowed to think out loud. That is the environment where I always wanted to work, and DanStem and BRIC at the University of Copenhagen gave me the opportunity to make it happen, says Arnes

During his postdoctoral training, he volunteered for lecturing in graduate programs and participated in workshops and management courses organized by the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs and the Center for teaching and learning at Columbia University. He feels fortunate to have had mentors who gave him the time to develop skills other than laboratory techniques:

-    The research experience and management training made me realize that running a research laboratory is a multifaceted approach to science. At the end of my postdoctoral training, I had the opportunity to put in practice my training leading a multidisciplinary research project in the area of functional genomics in oncology. I managed data, budgets, and timelines, as well as hiring and managing research personnel. It was a fascinating and fulfilling experience that I will continue to develop in the future, says Arnes.

Bridging development and cancer biology at DanStem and BRIC

To launch his independent research career, Arnes looked for an interdisciplinary and translational environment and found BRIC/DanStem to be a perfect match. He highlights BRICs outstanding research facilities, international projection, and strong educational programmes as elements that will allow him to grow as a young group leader. Finally, he emphasizes the BRIC/DanStem alliance as a perfect platform for pursuing his scientific objectives:

-    My research plan builds on the premise that cancer is a disease of differentiation. Cancer co-opts developmental pathways and endows cancerous cells with enhanced growth, resistance to therapy and invasive capabilities. My group will interact with research groups with renowned international expertise in developmental biology at DanStem at the University of Copenhagen. I expect to bridge the outstanding research in development and cancer biology at DanStem and BRIC. The collegiality and scientific environment at both Centres and in the Copenhagen area is the perfect setting to develop my research program, says Arnes.