Interview with Pia Cosma (CRG)

We had the great pleasure to interview Pia Cosma, ICREA Research Professor and Senior Scientist at Centre for Genomic Regulation (CRG).

Pia Cosma shared with us the projects that keep her currently busy as well as her views on the city of Barcelona, the CRG and the future of research.

One of your key areas of work is the study of the regeneration of cells to combat blindness. What are you currently working on?

In the past we demonstrated that we could regenerate different types of neurons in the retina like photoreceptors or ganglion cells into the mice. And we did this by transplanting hematopoietic stem cells that we isolated from the bone marrow. These cells can fuse with Muller Glia cells. The resulting hybrids, upon activation a specific pathway in the cells, which is called Wnt signalling, can induce regeneration because they can differentiate into photoreceptors or ganglion cells. Now we are testing this type of approach to move our studies toward a more human context.

You cooperate with different institutions and parties like “La Caixa” Banking Foundation or the Barraquer Institute. How important is collaboration in your daily work?

This collaboration is very important. The project is financed by La Caixa and allows us to partner with the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC) and Barraquer Institute to progress and test our findings on humans. We obtain organoids from IBEC and Barraquer provides us with donation of retina so we can test some concepts on retinal explants.

How many researchers do you lead in your Pia Cosma lab and what kind of profiles and background do they have?

We are between 15 and 18 in our Lab in Barcelona, including post-docs, PHD students, master students. It is a very multidisciplinary environment, with experts on physics, biology etc.. They all have very different backgrounds as we have different projects.

And you have recently open in China.

Yes, we have signed an agreement recently with China to carry our research there. China is a place where we need to be as they are investing a lot in research and they have very good students. It will help us accelerate our research.

What are the three things Pia Cosma enjoys the most in the CRG

The CRG is a great place to be. It is a very international center, with nearly 70% of foreigners. It is also very dynamic. There’s a great level of mobility, people coming and going, international scientists that give conferences all the time… And the environment is very mixed, which I believe is great for science.

What would you tell young researchers that want to pursue their dream?

Science is so competitive nowadays that I would say that they should never give up. Young researchers need to pursue their ideas. They need to be kind of independent and follow their ideas. For instance, I supervise the work of my students, but I always try not to interfere. The best ideas come from young scientist.

What’s the best thing about working in Barcelona?

Barcelona is a great city to live in and I enjoy it very much. It is very organized, there are plenty of things to do and it’s very easy for family life.

And if you could change one thing in the research world, what would that be?

Because science is very competitive, sometimes cooperation is not so easy. We could make a faster progress if we all shared more our knowledge. We would push forward discovery much faster. It is however linked to the fact of how we are evaluated, which makes science highly competitive.

Science is important for society, but how could we bring science closer to citizens?

It is a must. If the interest from the general public towards science increases, the interest from politicians and decision makers will increase too and therefore there will be more resources for research. That’s why many colleagues of my lab participate regularly in events and activities to tell the people how science is and that we are normal people. It is an important part of our work to explain science to society.

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