New group leader Nina Cabezas-Wallscheid is investigating the sleep of stem cells

May 05, 2017

The stem cell specialist Dr. Nina Cabezas-Wallscheid starts as newly appointed group leader at the the Max Planck Institute of Immunbiology and Epigenetics as of May 2017. She will continue her work on regulation of hematopoietic stem cell quiescence.

Throughout our entire life, hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) maintain the blood-forming system in the bone marrow. Specially, under conditions of stress, such as during blood loss or inflammation, hematopoietic stem cells are driven into a state of rapid cell proliferation to produce new blood cells and repair damaged tissue. However, if there is no need for cell replenishment HSCs exist in a state of dormancy where they do not divide and have very low energy demand.

“This state of sleep is very important for hematopoietic stem cells. It not only preserves and governs the life-long functionality of HSCs but also protects them from accumulating genomic mutations that can be acquired during rapid cell divisions. This reduces their ability to maintain and repair tissue”, says Nina Cabezas-Wallscheid.

The main goal of the newly established laboratory of Nina Cabezas-Wallscheid in the department of Max Planck Director Rudolf Grosschedl at the MPI-IE is to uncover and understand the mechanisms that maintain HSC quiescence. By using a wide range of interdisciplinary approaches such as second-generation mouse models, bone marrow imaging in combination with state-of-the-art methylome, transcriptome and proteome analyses Nina Cabezas-Wallscheid and her team will investigate which signaling pathways and extracellular biochemical stimuli keep HSC dormancy.

We were already able to show that different dietary behaviors influence the balance between HSC dormancy and differentiation. For instance, retinoic acid, a vitamin A metabolite, protects HSCs to be pushed into state of rapid cell division” explains Nina Cabezas-Wallscheid.

Further, the new research group at the MPI-IE hopes to translate their findings to target therapies for human diseases such as cancer. It is known that dysregulation of this well-balanced system of entry and exit from dormancy can lead to aberrant hematopoiesis such as leukemia. Understanding the mechanisms that keep HSCs asleep or awake could provide new avenues to develop strategies to target cancer as well as metastatic stem cells.


Dr. Nina Cabezas-Wallscheid, born 1982, studied biotechnology (M.Sc.) at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, Spain and the University of Parma, Italy. She earned her Ph.D. on the study of AML1-ETO a subtype of acute myeloid leukemia (AML). Nina showed the evolution of transcriptional landscapes and the establishment of cancer stem cell hierarchies based on a novel mouse model at the Medical Center of the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz, Germany (2006-2010).During her Ph.D. Nina Cabezas-Wallscheid also visited as a guest scientist the Harvard Stem Cell Institute in Boston, USA.

From 2011 until 2017 she was Postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Stem Cells and Cancer (Prof. Andreas Trumpp) at German Cancer Research Center, Heidelberg, Germany. There she focused her research on the identification of regulatory networks in the adult HSC and multipotent compartment and the investigation of mechanisms involved in maintaining HSC quiescence.

Since May 2017 Nina Cabezas-Wallscheid is an independent Group Leader at the Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics in the department of Rudolf Grosschedl.

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