The focus of my current research is on modeling Parkinson´s disease (PD) by using patient specific induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC). I started working on this topic in 2013, when I started my PhD in the group of A. Consiglio at the Institute of Biomedicine of the University of Barcelona. Since then, I have been exploring the relationship between PD pathogenic mutations and the genetic makeup of patients. The work I presented in Mallorca, during the 9th edition of the SETGyC Congress, concerned developing a genetic reporter for tracking and/or sorting live dopaminergic neurons derived from iPSC. Specifically, we knocked-in a gene encoding for a fluorescent protein after the last exon of the tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) gene using CRISPR/Cas9 technology (see the figure below for a graphic summary). For several reasons, this reporter line has been long awaited in the field of PD modelling using iPSC. The most important reason is to enable live analysis in a defined cell type among the differentiated progeny. Thanks to this tool, we have been able to study disease-related phenotypes in live cells. After giving my talk, I immediately had a feeling that the work was well received and I received interesting and useful feedback from relevant researchers in the field such as Ernest Arenas (Karolinska Institute, Stockholm) and Juanjo Toledo (IBIS, Sevilla).
The scientific level at the meeting was very high. I was able to attend amazing talks, some topics were very close to my field, some others not so much. The speakers, however, always gave very clear talks with an excellent structure. This made it easy for the audience to follow talks outside their immediate expertise and learn from other fields. The congress had an excellent atmosphere. It was a great opportunity to meet up with colleagues I met before and to get to know new people. Another aspect that I want to highlight is the presence of company representatives, who introduced us to their commercial vision. The industrial application of our findings is something that we sometimes forget about in an academic lab. However, it is encouraging to discover that biotech companies are very active in our field. In this regard, I was particularly interested in the services provided by the company Neuroproof (Rostock, Germany). Their project manager, Benjamin Bader, explained how Neuroproof performs preclinical testing of drug candidates for neurodegenerative disorders using iPSC-derived neurons and their electrophysiological activity as a readout.
On the last day I received the very exciting news that I was one of the winners of the SETGyC Young Investigator Awards, sponsored by ESGCT. I would like to thank the organisers for giving me the prize, which is a confidence boost and a reward for hard work. I look forward to participating in the next edition of the SETGyC Congress, particularly as this will be a joint Congress with ESGCT.