17/02/2014

Interview with SIgN researcher Dr Florent Ginhoux

Categories: Meet the researchers


In November 2013 Singapore-based scientist Dr Florent Ginhoux became one of 23 researchers, and the only scientist from Asia this year, who was picked for the EMBO Young Investigator programme in 2013. The programme recognises outstanding researchers under 40 years old who are leading their first laboratories, both in Europe and in EMBO cooperation partner countries. Dr Ginhoux is a principal investigator at A*STAR’s Singapore Immunology Network. He is also an adjunct Assistant Professor at the National University of Singapore, Nanyang Technological University and the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School. Susanne Rentzow-Vasu caught up with Dr Ginhoux via email.

About Florent Ginhoux

Florent Ginhoux graduated in Biochemistry from the University Pierre et Marie CURIE, Paris VI and obtained a Master’s degree in Advanced Studies in Immunology from the Pasteur Institute, Paris. He then started his PhD in the Immunology Team of GENETHON, Evry and obtained his PhD in 2004 from the University Paris VI. As a postdoctoral fellow, Florent Ginhoux joined the Laboratory of Miriam Merad in the Mount Sinai School of Medicine (MSSM), New York. In 2008, he became an Assistant Professor in the Department of Gene and Cell Medicine, MSSM. He joined the Singapore Immunology Network (SIgN), A*STAR in May 2009 as a Principal Investigator.

Interview

Dr Ginhoux, you have just been awarded the EMBO Young Investigator Award. Congratulations! Could you tell us a little bit about the research you are planning to conduct with this grant?

My laboratory focuses on the biology of dendritic cells, which are very unique and special cells of the immune system. They are crucial pathogen sensing and antigen presenting cells that basically control the initiation of our body immune responses to any invading microbes or vaccines that we receive. We are trying to understand where do these cells come from in both mice and humans, how do they work and how they are made in order to better manipulate them in vitro and in vivo. This award will allow me to continue my research in this direction.

Can you tell us a little bit about the anticipated outcome of this research project? How will the general public benefit from it?

On the one hand, understanding the biology of dendritic cells will help the scientific community to design better vaccines. If you understand how these cells take the decision at the molecular level to initiate immune responses, then you can devise new vaccinal strategies based on this knowledge. On the other hand, dendritic cells also regulate immune responses and tolerance to self-antigens. When their functions are dysregulated, dendritic cells can be harmful and initiate immune responses against our own body. This leads to autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, lupus to name a few. Again, the better understanding of DC biology in this context and how they initiate detrimental auto-reactive immune responses could lead to more effective strategies for the treatment of such diseases.

You have studied in France and are currently working in Singapore. Could you tell us a little more about the stops in your research career so far?

After completing my studies at the University Pierre et Marie CURIE (Paris VI) in 2000, I started my PhD in the Immunology Team of GENETHON and obtained it in 2004 from the Florent Ginhoux graduated in Biochemistry from the University Pierre et Marie CURIE, Paris VI and obtained a Master’s degree in Advanced Studies in Immunology from the Pasteur Institute, Paris. He then started his PhD in the Immunology Team of GENETHON, Evry and obtained his PhD in 2004 from the University Paris VI. As a postdoctoral fellow, Florent Ginhoux joined the Laboratory of Miriam Merad in the Mount Sinai School of Medicine (MSSM), New York. In 2008, he became an Assistant Professor in the Department of Gene and Cell Medicine, MSSM. He joined the Singapore Immunology Network (SIgN), A*STAR in May 2009 as a Principal Investigator. University Pierre et Marie CURIE (Paris VI) doctoral school. Then, for my postdoc, I spent 4 years from 2004 to 2009 in New York at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. This was a very exciting time for research and I was planning to set up my laboratory there when I was promoted Assistant Professor in the Department of Gene and Cell Medicine and became member of the Immunology Institute of MSSM in 2008. However, because of the financial crisis at the time, it was very difficult for young investigators like me to find enough resources to support their research. I looked then into different opportunities in the USA and in Europe but was not satisfied as I wanted to find an institution that will actively help me to start my laboratory and also strongly support innovative and cutting edge research. Then I heard about Singapore and its new Immunology Institute called the Singapore Immunology Network (SIgN), an academic nonprofit organization launched by the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) in January 2008. I visited SIgN in late 2008 and joined in May 2009 as a Principal Investigator. I am now leading a laboratory of 10 very motivated young scientists/students and I have no intention to leave!

Having conducted research both in Asia and in Europe, what are the best aspects of either research community?

First, Asia is a vast and immense continent with enormous diversities. I feel that I can only speak about the Singaporean research community. Nevertheless, what is defining research in Asia including Singapore at the moment is a massive investment in biomedical research, plenty of excitement and incredible new opportunities for research. Research in Singapore is also fast paced and strongly supported by funding initiatives that allow us to really move forward on our projects and to design ambitious cutting edge scientific program. Also, research institutes are quite young and are fully supported by state-of-the-art facilities and core services. Finally, the proximity with industry and the incentives to develop collaborative projects with industrial partners allow us also to be in contact with emerging technologies long before other scientists outside Singapore.

How important is the scientific cooperation between these two regions?

I believe that the scientific cooperation between these two regions is crucial but yet at its early beginning and I would like to see more ambitious programs and exchanges arising from the scientific cooperation between these two regions. Singaporean researchers should be able to apply in collaboration with EU researchers to EU funding. Research Project: “Ontogeny, Differentiation and Immune Functions of Dendritic Cells” Dendritic cells (DCs) form a heterogeneous group of antigen presenting cells that are critical agents in the induction and regulation of immune responses and potential targets of immunotherapeutic interventions. DCs have been shown to be heterogeneous implicating functional specializations that are starting to be unraveled. We aim to more precisely define murine and human DC subsets, in terms of their cellular ancestry, their differentiation program and their cytokine dependency. This first characterization step of the steady state DC network will form the foundations for further studies to delineate their specific immune functions, as ontogeny and homeostasis of DC subsets likely underlie their functional specializations. Our next challenge is also to identify homologous DC subsets in mice and humans and to establish functional similarities across the two species. Parallel comparative studies will aid understanding of human DC biology. Better understanding of the ontogeny, differentiation pathways and immune specializations of murine and human DC subsets will facilitate the development of new molecular targets for immunotherapy and vaccination.

In your opinion, what could be done to further enhance international scientific cooperation and, most importantly, the mobility of international researchers?

Increasing student exchange programs and simplifying access to travel funds for scientists without enormous administrative burden will most likely improve international scientific cooperation. Setting up an international adjunct professorship with university partners that is easy to administer would also help. Finally, researchers also have to consider the needs of their families, and easy access to resources that support the integration of their dependents in a new location is crucial.

How did you find out about the EMBO award and can you share any tips with our readers for a successful application to the next round of applications for an EMBO Young Investigator award?

I learned about the possibility for Singaporean researchers to apply to the EMBO young investigator award through the press when Singapore’s government announced a cooperation agreement with EMBO, which started in October 2011. I think that the key thing for a successful application is to propose innovative research and to show signs of independence!

What motivates you as a researcher? Which goals are you still hoping to achieve?

Curiosity and resolving unanswered questions is highly motivational and exciting. What is also great in our job is that every day is different and unpredictable! Hopefully, I will continue to contribute to my fields of interests and the scientific community, adding new knowledge that may be ultimately used in medicine. I also hope to provide good training to students that come to my lab in order for them to embrace a similar scientific career than mine.

Thank you very much for the interview!