Introducing... Vahid Shahrezaei

Vahid Shahrezaei recently joined the Crick on sabbatical to set up the Computational Molecular Systems Biology Lab, using bioinformatics to understand what enables cells to grow, divide, transmit signals, process information and make decisions.

Tell us about your career so far 

Portrait of Vahid Shahrezaei

Learn more about Vahid's lab at the Crick

I am originally from Tehran, Iran. I was always good at Math and Physics at school and at the end of my secondary school, I ended up in Iran’s national Physics Olympiad team. In 1995 we competed in the International Physics Olympiad in Australia and I won a silver medal. 

After this I decided to study physics at Sharif University of Technology in Tehran. During my undergraduate and MSc at Sharif I became attracted to biophysics and computational biology and started working on the protein folding problem using simple mathematical models. This research made me very interested in biology and I decided to move to Simon Fraser University (SFU) in Canada in 2000 to do a PhD in biophysics. 

When I arrived at SFU my PhD advisor in Physics, Michael Wortis, suggested that I talk to Kerry Delaney, a synaptic physiologist in the Department of Biology. Kerry initially was sceptical of taking me on as I displayed very poor knowledge of basic biology, but further conversations suggested our shared curiosity about the basic processes of biological systems was a good common ground. 

Under the supervision of Michael and Kerry I used computational modelling to study the electrical impulses and signals between neurons. This data-driven work helped us get a better picture of these processes in greater detail than was available solely through experimentation. It showed me the power of theoretical and mathematical approaches as an additional tool to understand basic processes in biology. 

Following my PhD, I decided that brains were too complex for me, and decided to study how simpler systems such as single cells and microbes work robustly. I did a postdoc with Peter Swain at McGill University in Canada and developed mathematical models to describe situations where genetically identical cells express those genes in different amounts due to basic randomness in the physical processes in the cell, making them appear and act different to one another.

As a side project, in collaboration with yeast biologists at University of Montreal, I studied how cells receive, interpret, and respond to information, as well as how each individual cell’s specific decision is determined in the context of sexual mating. My 2-year postdoc in Montreal was highly memorable and it led me to my current position in London.

Where were you before joining the Crick?

I have been at the Department of Mathematics, Imperial College since the fall of 2008, first as a lecturer and now as a reader in biomathematics. I enjoy teaching and doing research at Imperial College and have great students and colleagues. 

As a biomathematican, I am always interested in interacting and collaborating with biologists.

My research interests at Imperial have evolved over the years. I am interested in modelling the inherent randomness in the processes that happen within cells. I have also developed simplified models of complex cell physiology, and I am fascinated by single cell RNA-seq data, which shows us which genes are active in different cells at any given time. I am interested in developing methods to better interpret this data.

What attracted you to the Crick?

As a biomathematican, I am always interested in interacting and collaborating with biologists. So, I am pleased to be spending a sabbatical year at the Crick. I am sitting with some of the theorists on the 4th floor of the Crick and enjoy participating in the “modellers meetup”. I am presenting my inference and model discovery work at the modellers meetup on the last Wednesday of February.

What will your lab be working on?

At the Crick, I collaborate with the lab of Folkert van Werven on understanding decision making in yeast meiosis. I am also interested to establish new collaborations with other PIs at the Crick.

How are you settling into life at the Crick?

I have been at the Crick for about 3 months, and I am quite settled. I enjoy overlooking St Pancras station from my office. I have already wrote a grant with my collaborator at the Crick and looking forward to more research activity over the next 9 months.

How have you found setting up your lab?

I am a theoretician so don’t have a wet lab to set up. Just need a desk, my computer and pen and paper!

And finally – in an alternate universe where you weren’t a researcher, what would you be doing?

I am fascinated by psychology and I enjoy mentoring students and the pastoral care aspect of my academic role. I think in an alternate universe, I would be interested to be a coach or a psychotherapist, helping people to realise their full potential!

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