October 2018: Stem Cell Core Lab with Barbara Corneo
What is the main focus of your lab?
I direct the Stem Cell Core facility, a multi-center facility under the umbrella of the Columbia Stem Cell Initiative at Columbia University Medical Center, created to help users take advantage of up-to-date resources in the stem cell field in a timely and cost-efficient way.
How long have you had your lab? When did you join Columbia University?
How big is your lab currently?
There are 5 people including myself.
Where is your lab located?
In the William Black building. We are now on the 4th floor, but we will hopefully move soon to a newly renovated space on the 11th floor. This will be the new home of the Columbia Stem Cell Initiative.
What are the most exciting projects/directions in the lab at this moment?
We always do very exciting work. Dario Sirabella, Achchhe Patel and myself usually are in charge of deriving iPSC from human samples (blood or skin biopsy or other tissues if needed); Dario is also in charge of the differentiation of hPSC (human pluripotent stem cells) in cardiomyocytes; Achchhe works on neural differentiation and gene editing; Alejandro Garcia Diaz is our gene editing guru and Khushbu Kabra is our newest addition, she also works on gene editing and motorneuron differentiation; I also do some neural differentiation. In this moment we are also starting some new projects using some cell types from strange animals instead than human cells.
What are the biggest accomplishments that your lab recently had?
We help people with their research, so anytime they can publish a paper or receive a grant thanks to work we did together, we feel accomplished! Also, it is still so exciting to see fibroblasts or blood cells becoming iPSC! We never get tired of that!
What are the model systems that your lab is using?
We work on hPSC, both embryonic stem cells and induced pluripotent stem cells and also just a tiny bit on mouse embryonic stem cells. Depending on the lab we work with, the lines we generate are available to the community. Some of our lines are distributed by a cell bank while some others are stored in house.
What are the key techniques that your lab is using? Are you open to training scientists from other labs?
Lots of tissue culture and molecular biology techniques. Yes, we always train students, or post-docs or also Masters students.
What facilities or equipment does your absolutely lab rely upon? Do you use CSCI cores?
All molecular biology equipment as well as tissue culture material and equipment. And yes, we use the flow facility at CSCI.
Who shall be contacted with questions about equipment, resources and training?
You can contact myself or any of the stem cell core members. We always welcome walk-ins!
What's your best approach to mentoring trainees in the lab?
Try to be as clear as possible when explaining; being kind; understanding their strengths and helping them with their weaknesses. In general, I think it is also very important to be fair.
Who were your most influential mentors/role models in science and what did you learn from them?
One of my former mentors, Gordon Keller. I want to be like him, very well known and super successful in the stem cell field, he is still super nice to everybody, able to sit and have a drink with you but also to keep his authority. He never needs to bully his team, and everybody is happy. Even so busy, he keeps having lab meeting and one-on-one meeting with every person in his lab. He is extremely talented and gave so many contributions to the field…Also a mentor during my PhD years, Alain Fischer. Same kind of personality.
Can you recommend courses/lectures in Columbia University that would be most beneficial for students/postdocs?
I suggest everybody to think outside the box and learn which other jobs are available for people in science. Not everybody at the end will direct a lab and it is ok. So maybe classes on how to write a grant, but also career fairs in which experts in other fields can tell more about their jobs.
What would be your career advice for students/postdocs?
Are you accepting rotating students at the moment?
We usually don’t get rotation students, because we are not a research lab. That may happen if the lab in which the student is doing the rotation decide to send the student to us for training.
How do members of your lab celebrate accomplishments?
Lunch together, cakes, chocolate and sometimes drinks….
Does your lab have any fun traditions?
We have lunch together basically every day. Sometimes we meet also outside the lab, but we may need a fun tradition now that you make me think about it….
What is the key to running a successful lab?
Creating a cool atmosphere where everybody feels comfortable enough to admit if they made a mistake. Honest mistakes happen even to the best of us. The worse is when there is fear and discontent.
What was the most exciting part about starting your new lab?
I was really excited to get this dream job. I knew I didn’t want to be a PI in the classic sense and I thought this kind of job would be good for my personality. I got to set up my lab from scratch and to decide our directions and I was lucky to have good people that were with me from day 1 and without which we would have failed miserably.
What has been your greatest challenge in managing your lab?
Learning skills other than doing experiments and reading/writing papers, like working on a budget and writing a business plan.
Stem Cell Directions:
What are the most important recent developments in the stem cell field?
I believe in the near future we will hear a lot more about cell transplantation therapies using stem cell products, also associated to gene therapy. Recently, the collaboration between a medical team in Germany and stem cell scientists in Italy allow to cure a little kid affected by a terrible skin disease (epidermolysis bullosa). And CRISPR has been used as therapeutic approach. I’m hopeful on the clinical trials currently ongoing for eye diseases and I’m looking forward the clinical trial for Parkinson’s that should start soon in Japan and possibly also in NYC (Studer lab).
Which stem cell conferences does your lab attend?
Always a local one, the NYSCF meeting. Sometimes ISSCR. And also a meeting aimed at early career investigators, the NextGen Stem Cell Conference. Also our stem cell core belongs to COREdinates, a consortium of stem cell facilities and we meet once a year.
What was the main reason of joining CSCI? What are the beneficial aspects of CSCI membership for your lab?
Our core is directly under the CSCI umbrella. I’m so happy for this CSCI 2.0! Our new leader, Emmanuelle Passegue, is really working hard toward creating a real stem cell community at Columbia
What do you plan to bring to the CSCI community?
All our knowledge and expertise in stem cells and gene editing. But we are also talking about outreach programs, so stay tuned!