Meet our newest group leaders

Settling into a new institute can be challenging at the best of times. COVID-19 is changing the way that the Crick works, including for the eight new group leaders who have joined us in the past few months to study everything from rare skin diseases to the forces at play inside our cells. Before this change, we sat down with our newest faculty to find out more about their aims for their work at the Crick.

David Balchin

David Balchin

David Balchin

What were you doing before you joined the Crick?

I was a postdoc in Munich at the Max Planck Institute for Biochemistry. I really settled in Munich and ended up staying there for a bit longer than I expected – six years! Eventually I knew that I wanted a change and made the decision to move to the Crick. Compared to my last big move from South Africa to Germany, moving from Germany to the UK has been relatively straightforward.

What attracted you to the Crick?

To a new group leader, I think the Crick has to be one of the most attractive places to work. I’ve only ever worked in traditional organisations with big research groups and a very hierarchical structure. I think the arrangement of small research groups working on diverse scientific problems at the Crick is really interesting and often the best way to get things done.

Sometimes it’s tempting to have a narrow focus in science and become fixated on one technique or question, but being in this kind of environment forces you to broaden your interest.

And what will your group be working on?

We’re interested in protein folding and learning more about how protein folding occurs correctly in organisms. At the moment, our models of protein folding don’t reflect the messy, complicated environment inside cells. 

We want to bridge the gap between simple models and real life by gradually adding complexity until the ‘test tube’ becomes a bit more like a cell.

And finally – if you weren’t a scientist, what would you be doing?

I think I’d either be running a coffee roastery or a winery, depending on whether I want to be in the city or the countryside.

Sergi Garcia-Manyes

Sergi Garcia Manyes

Sergi Garcia-Manyes

What were you doing before joining the Crick?

I’m the head of a biophysics group at King’s College London, and have a joint appointment with the Randall Centre. I’ve actually had a satellite group at the Crick, meaning that a couple of people from my group and Paula Booth’s group were based here with Justin Molloy’s lab, for the past couple of years.

But now I’m making the formal move over as a Crick group leader and I’ll be splitting my time (more or less!) equally between the Crick and King’s.

What attracted you to the Crick?

My group works on mechanobiology across different scales. I started out using single molecule nanomechanical techniques to investigate the physical principles that regulate protein elasticity and mechanical folding, but I now want to place my work within a clear biological context.

There is emerging evidence that mechanical forces affect a large variety of cellular functions in health and disease. But the molecular mechanisms of these are far from being well understood.

The Crick offers incredible opportunities to broaden the scope of my work and find more people to work with. I’d like to think that our techniques and approaches will bring something new to some of the research happening here.

What are your plans for your group at the Crick? 

I want to develop a team who can apply the principles of mechanical perturbations across a range of length- and force-scales.

Many fields – like cell biology, cancer research or immunology – have been traditionally investigated mostly from the biochemical perspective, but now we can complement this with a physical perspective too. There are so many cellular functions where mechanical forces are at play!  

I think that we have a huge opportunity, especially now that we are at the Crick, to take our knowledge about how single molecules and individual cells behave under force, and apply it to systems at larger and larger scales. I’m excited to develop the scope of our research, and find new applications for it. I have existing collaborations at the Crick, and I’m looking forward to establishing many more.

And finally – if you weren’t a scientist, what would you be doing?

I'd probably be doing something related to literature, maybe translating.

Veronica Kinsler

Veronica Kinsler

Veronica Kinsler

What were you doing before joining the Crick? 

I’ve been leading my group at the UCL Institute of Child Health, studying rare skin diseases. I split my time 80% in the lab and 20% in clinic at Great Ormond Street Hospital.

What attracted you to the Crick?

It’s a great environment for doing what we are trying to achieve. Being on site at the Crick puts me next to scientists with expertise and knowledge in really complementary fields. The building and the environment here really encourages collaborations and I’m looking forward to making the most of that.

What are your plans for your group at the Crick?

We’ve got plenty of plans! I study rare skin diseases and my group originally focused on discovering the genes causing the diseases, because none were known ten years ago. Now that we know how the diseases came about, we have been focusing more on developing precision therapies, tailored often to individual patients.  

And finally – if you weren’t a scientist what would you be doing?

Well I wanted to be a doctor from the age of three…but my alternative career would probably have been a dancer.
 

Mariya Moosajee

Mariya Moosajee

Mariya Moosajee

What were you doing before joining the Crick?

I was (and still am!) a clinician scientist dividing my time between the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology, Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children and Moorfields Eye Hospital. My research focuses on understanding the causes of genetic eye diseases, and using that knowledge to identify therapeutic targets to develop new treatments.

My work has always been directed by the interactions that I have with patients. In clinic, they will often ask what is the cause of their disease, and what can be done to treat it. For rare genetic eye diseases, finding the cause can be challenging, and we almost never have a treatment. So that’s what my group is working to answer. 

And what are your plans for your group at the Crick?

At the end of last year, NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) gave approval for the first retinal gene therapy (Luxturna or voretigene neparvovec) to be offered to NHS patients for a rare form of early onset severe retinal degeneration affecting children. This has given hope to those suffering from similar diseases. 

But Luxturna uses a virus to package the desired gene and deliver it to the retina. These viruses are called adeno-associated viral vectors, but they have an upper size limit so can only hold smaller genes. Their viral properties also expose patients to immune responses. At the Crick, we’re developing a non-viral alternative, which can hold genes of any size, and are devoid of viral components and therefore, in principle, should be safer for human application. 

What attracted you to the Crick?

It was really the collaborative atmosphere and world class facilities. I find working with people from different scientific disciplines really invigorating, and the Crick is the perfect place to do that. I’m excited to collaborate with people here, learn from their work, and find different ways to apply the wide range of research happening at the Crick to ophthalmology. 

And finally, if you weren’t a scientist what would you be doing?

In my parallel life, I would be an artist (or newsreader!). I may go back to art school one day, I’m an avid oil painter. I founded and chair the Moorfields Eye Hospital Arts Committee, procuring one of the largest tactile art collections in the world for permanent public display in the hospital. I believe in making art accessible for all.

Adam Sateriale

Adam Sateriale

Adam Sateriale 

What were you doing before you joined the Crick?

I first fell in love with parasitology during my PhD at the University of Vermont, then I was drawn to the parasite that I work on (Cryptosporidium) because it offered the opportunity to make a real difference. It’s a parasite that has an enormous public health impact, but there are no effective drugs and no vaccines (not even in development).

During my postdocs, I was working to create the tools needed in order to study Cryptosporidium more closely and drive the basic research that leads to new therapeutics.

And what will your group be working on?

We’ll be exploring the genetics of the host-parasite interaction. I’m equally interested in how the immune system recognises the parasite, and how the parasite evades this detection. We will be trying to see the full picture by attacking both sides of the equation.

What attracted you to the Crick?

When you walk in, there’s a really exciting energy that I was immediately drawn to. And the technology platforms and the people working in them are absolutely incredible.

And finally – if you weren’t a scientist, what would you be doing?

I was drawn to science because I wanted to solve mysteries and piece together the answers to questions. So maybe the FBI – or Scotland Yard now that I’m in the UK!

Andrea Serio

Andrea Serio.

Andrea Serio

What will you be working on at the Crick?

We’re working on two main areas. Firstly, we want to create the next useful model to understand the nervous system. It is a platform that we’ve developed ourselves that combines our expertise in stem cells, imaging and bioengineering. We’re using it specifically to study how nerve cells, which can be up to a meter long, organise themselves, and how the size and shape of cells affects their function.

We’re also hoping to push the envelope on how we model neurocircuitry. We’re creating physical instruments that will allow us to model complex circuits and answer big questions that we have about basic neuroscience.

What were you doing before joining the Crick?

I was doing almost exactly the same thing at King’s College London! I was based at King’s Guy’s campus leading a neuroscience group which has now relocated to the Crick.

What attracted you to the Crick?

It was really the collaborations – both the long-standing ones that I already have and the potential for new ones. I’ve worked with Rickie Patani for years and now our offices are right next to each other! 
The other main draw was the science technology platforms and the technical knowledge that the people working in them have – they’re absolutely one of the best scientific resources in London.

Above all, I was drawn to the structure of the institute. It’s organised like a department and I think that can often be the best way to encourage work that combines different areas of research.

And finally – if you weren’t a scientist, what would you be doing?

To be honest, I think I’d always be a scientist. My job is being a group leader and a lecturer, but being a scientist is part of my identity. I’ve obviously considered other career paths, but nothing has appealed to me in the same way.

Saverio Tedesco

Saverio Tedesco

Francesco Saverio Tedesco

What were you doing before joining the Crick? 

I’m a clinician scientist and have been leading a research group at UCL since 2014. When I’m not in the lab, I’m a paediatrician: I see children with many different conditions and my key interest is in neuromuscular diseases of childhood. 

What attracted you to the Crick?

It seemed like a unique opportunity. On one hand, I’ll be able strengthen the collaborations that I already have, but I’m just as excited to set up entirely new collaborations. I love the idea of bumping into people around the Crick and being exposed to entirely new areas of science.

One of the main things that drew me to the Crick was actually the number of events and seminars that happen here every day. Just by walking into the building and getting into the lift, you find out about ten different seminars that all sound fascinating. It’s a great way to get you around the building and meeting people, and stops you sitting in your office all day.

What are your plans for your group at the Crick?

There are two main things that I think will help my research at the Crick. Firstly, we’re in an excellent place to do basic science here. Facilities like the science technology platforms aren’t normally so nearby, and being able to work with them and other groups at the Crick will give our research a huge boost.

And as a clinician scientist, I’m always focused on the potential for new therapies. Being at the Crick will really help with my long term goal of developing new treatments for childhood muscular diseases. 

And finally – if you weren’t a scientist, what would you be doing?

If I wasn’t a scientist (and I wasn’t a clinician), I think I’d probably be a DJ! I collect vinyl records and I’d like to have a go at being a DJ in the funk and soul world.

Petr Znamenskiy

Petr Znamenskii.

Petr Znamenskiy

What were you doing before joining the Crick?

I was a postdoc at the Sainsbury Wellcome Centre at UCL for two years. Before that, the group was based in the University of Basel.

Packing up all the lab equipment for the move to UCL was quite a challenge – moving myself from UCL to the Crick was nothing in comparison!

And what are your plans for your group?

I’m interested in neural circuits in the visual cortex. I want to find out how neurons acquire their inputs and outputs during development and how this affects their function.

We know quite a bit about how different types of neurons are generated, but much less about how they decide which other cells to make connections to within the circuit. My work is trying to bridge this gap, and find out more about how our visual system develops and operates.

What attracted you to the Crick?

My research is very multidisciplinary so I was drawn to an environment where I would be able to make the most of that. We’re really trying to bridge the gap between developmental neuroscience and systems neuroscience, and I can’t think of a better place to do that than the Crick.

And finally – if you weren’t a scientist, what would you be doing?

I’m not sure, but maybe something to do with agriculture. I quite like the idea of raising cattle and having a cheese-making business. 
 

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