November 2019: Meet the Mace Lab
What is the main focus of your lab?
We study human innate immune cell development, with a particular focus on the roles of cell migration, adhesion and cell proliferation as cells undergo differentiation from hematopoietic precursors to mature circulating or tissue-resident cells. We are approaching these questions with cell biological and biophysical approaches, particularly through the use of quantitative imaging and microscopy. Some of our work is informed by the study of patients with immunodeficiencies that affect immune cell differentiation and function.
How long have you had your lab? When did you join Columbia University?
I started my lab in January 2016 at Baylor College of Medicine; we moved to Columbia University in June 2018.
How big is your lab currently?
We have grown since we moved! Currently, we are 3 postdocs, 3 grad students, a post-baccalaureate researcher, an undergraduate researcher, a visiting postdoctoral researcher, and two research coordinators. We were fortunate to have undergraduate researchers over the summer from the SPURS program and the Barnard Summer Research Institute.
Where is your lab located?
We are located on the tenth floor of the VP&S building.
What are the most exciting projects/directions in the lab at this moment?
Everything in the lab is moving on a really exciting trajectory these days. We have developed new platforms for imaging immune cell differentiation from pluripotent stem cells and have refined our approach to imaging this process from hematopoietic precursors, and we are now applying those to generate single-cell and population-based measurements. Based on our patient studies, we are investigating the role of cell cycle regulation in natural killer cell development and function and have some interesting new data in both mature cells and precursors that is taking us in new directions. Through our use of high- and super-resolution imaging, we are really getting into dissecting the mechanisms and regulation of innate immune cell migration in tissue, and we have also recently begun to generate data from our efforts to use imaging mass cytometry to identify innate immune cells and precursors in human tissue. We’ve formed new collaborations at Columbia and throughout New York for many of these projects and it is really gratifying to see these take hold, develop and progress.
What are the biggest accomplishments that your lab recently had?
It has been an eventful year for the lab. We were fortunate to secure NIH funding, which has enabled much of the growth I’ve described. Having just moved, I also feel accomplished to have assembled a great team of people and to have them together in a functioning lab. However, perhaps most satisfying to me are the accomplishments of trainees. My first PhD student, Justin Gunesch, defended his thesis in January and graduated in May. Amera Dixon, a post-baccalaureate researcher, won a travel award to the American Society for Cell Biology meeting and then went on to win a poster prize at the meeting. Dr. Seungmae Seo, a postdoctoral researcher in the lab, was recently awarded a spot on the NYSTEM training grant, and we were also recently awarded a diversity supplement from the NIH to support the research of Everardo Hegewisch Solloa, a graduate student in the lab. Barclay Lee, another graduate student, will defend his thesis in December, and we have several papers in the pipeline that I am really excited about.
What are the model systems that your lab is using?
We do not use animal models but have several models for human immune cell differentiation, including in vitro differentiation of natural killer cells from CD34+ precursors and immune cell differentiation from iPS and ES cells.
What are the key techniques that your lab is using? Are you open to training scientists from other labs?
We use multiple imaging techniques, including long-term in-incubator imaging, confocal microscopy, super-resolution microscopy, and light-sheet microscopy. We are always interested in building new collaborative projects that bring together cutting-edge imaging with impactful science.
What's your best approach to mentoring trainees in the lab?
My office is in the lab and I enjoy doing benchwork and microscopy, so I tend to be fairly hands-on and enjoy having lots of time for science discussion in the lab or the microscopy room. Defining and evaluating individual career and scientific goals for trainees and helping people achieve them is my primary goal as a mentor. I try to approach each mentoring relationship this way and make sure that we have ongoing conversations about progress and identify and dismantle barriers to success as early as possible.lab.
Who were your most influential mentors/role models in science and what did you learn from them?
I was fortunate to have wonderful PhD and postdoc mentors. My PhD mentor provided me with a very solid foundation in cell biology, stem cell biology, and immunology. My postdoc mentor provided me with the opportunity to develop my own career and research interests at the same time as working on a number of collaborative projects. Both taught me to be creative, rigorous and curious and set the highest standard as good citizens in science and research as well as day-to-day life.
Can you recommend courses/lectures in Columbia University that would be most beneficial for students/postdocs?
The Stem Cell Course provides an absolutely incredible opportunity to learn from world-class stem cell biologists. I recommend trainees attend work-in-progress talks and get comfortable asking questions, and attend talks or lectures that are a little outside of your field or comfort zone as often as possible.
What would be your career advice for students/postdocs?
Don’t be afraid to take what may be perceived as an atypical career path and be open to opportunities when they arise.
Are you accepting rotating students at the moment?
Yes! Feel free to contact me about opportunities.
How do members of your lab celebrate accomplishments?
Like most others, we like to celebrate with food and drink.
What is the key to running a successful lab?
I’m not sure I know yet, but I’m sure like every other aspect of science it involves perseverance and tenacity with a certain aspect of luck and timing. Whether or not it leads to success, having a collegial, collaborative and respectful environment in the lab is of the highest importance to me.
What was the most exciting part about starting your new lab?
There are many exciting (and stressful) parts about starting a lab, but the feeling of having people working together to advance projects that I have been thinking about since I was a trainee is incredibly powerful. While staying in academia can be challenging, it is such a privilege to have the opportunity to pursue ideas as part of a diverse team of passionate people.
Stem Cell Directions
Which stem cell conferences does your lab attend?
We attended the NYSCF meeting for the first time this year, sometimes I go to ASH. We have a wide range of interests that means we attend a wide range of meetings from stem cell biology to microscopy to cell biology and immunology.
What was the main reason of you joining CSCI?
Having a multi-disciplinary, vibrant, engaged stem cell community is a wonderful resource. I appreciate the organized activities, including seminars and happy hours, and the infrastructure provided by the cores. Most of all, I am thankful to have the opportunity for myself and my trainees to interact with such a diverse and accomplished group of stem cell scientists.
What do you plan to bring to the CSCI community?
Hopefully, we bring some unique expertise and perspective and can engage in all the activities described above that make CSCI great!