Professor Federico Calegari: Re-defining the Brain

07 Dec,2023

Professor Federico Calegari: Re-defining the Brain

In early 2024, ARMI will be welcoming its newest group leader to the Institute, Professor Federico Calegari. A leader in the endogenous neural stem cell (NSC) field, Federico (alias Fede) will be joining ARMI, jointly-affiliated group with the Center for Regenerative Therapies Dresden at TU Dresden (Technische Universität Dresden) and will be starting his team under the Neural Regeneration research theme.

Originally born in Argentina, and completing his undergraduate and postgraduate studies in Italy, Fede moved to the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG) in Dresden as a postdoctoral fellow. From there, he continued to rise through the ranks, becoming a group leader, professor, and next Director of the DFG-Center and Cluster of Excellence for Regenerative Therapies Dresden. During his time in Dresden, Fede co-developed a method of interfering with gene expression in mammalian postimplantation embryos, and methods and compositions for the expansion of somatic stem cells and progenitor cells, both of which are patented, using these tools to promote cognitive function in mice. Summarising his career journey thus far, Fede says, “More about improvising than long term planning. My attitude has been, and still is: for as long as I have fun doing it, let’s continue. Retrospectively, it’s been a surprising and improbable journey.”

With nearly 70 publications, Fede has been an innovator in characterising endogenous mammalian neural stem cells, and understanding how they can be harnessed to rescue brain function in disease and to improve the function of the mammalian brain. For Fede, the fascination with stem cells runs deep. “Stem cells build organs. Being able to build a machine implies an understanding of how that machine works. Hence, learning how stem cells build organs will help us understand how organs work or to repair them when damaged,” he commented. “Of all organs, I chose the brain, whose function define us as humans… can there be anything more fascinating than that?”

This love for interrogating conceptual frameworks is evidenced by his greatest achievement in biomedical research thus far, his revision of a long-standing dogma where he showed that lengthening of the cell cycle is a cause, rather than a consequence, of stem cell differentiation. He further explained, “As a corollary, I found the means to increase the number of stem cells, hence neurons, generated in the mammalian brain. This resulted in improved cognitive functions although, technically speaking, we still don’t know how these neurons make our mice smarter.”

Along with this mindset for disruptive innovation, Fede will be bringing to ARMI his findings and tools to manipulate and expand neural stem cells, which can be applied across all types of stem cell systems. Beyond the lab bench, Fede has a thirst for travel and is a keen hiker so there is no doubt he will enjoy what greater Melbourne, and indeed Australia, has to offer. “I’m looking forward to exploring more of this corner of the planet.”

Welcome Fede!

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