IMB's Natalia Soshnikova accepted into the DFG’s Heisenberg Programme

Dr Natalia Soshnikova, Group Leader at the Institute of Molecular Biology (IMB) in Mainz, has been accepted into the prestigious Heisenberg Programme from the German Research Foundation (DFG) to further pursue her research on gut development. Admission into this programme is granted to outstanding scientists to enable them to prepare for a senior academic position while continuing their research work.

At first glance, the gut appears to be a simple organ consisting of only a long tube surrounded by a few cell types wrapped in muscle. Yet, just how complex this organ is, has slowly been realised over the last two decades. This complexity is underscored by the intricacy of its formation during development and its connection with the health of the whole body. When moving to the Institute of Molecular Biology (IMB) in 2012 to establish her own research group, Dr Natalia Soshnikova worked to unravel the mechanisms behind how different cells in the gut arise from their embryonic forbearers. "Moving to IMB I had a chance to start something totally new", says Dr Soshnikova. "I was interested in the specification of intestinal stem cells during development. In my time at IMB, I have been able to uncover factors that control the timing and specification of these cells in the embryonic gut." Her research, which was published, for example, in the journals Nucleic Acids Research and The EMBO Journal in 2017, encouraged her to apply for the Heisenberg Programme, to which she was accepted in November 2018. Now, she says, "I'm eager to tackle the next challenge."

As Dr Soshnikova explains, "Following my work on intestinal stem cells I am curious to explore their relationship to cancer. The intestinal epithelium is one of the most highly regenerative tissues in the body. Due to this regenerative capacity, it is very prone to neoplasia and cancer. Within the Heisenberg Programme, I will examine the development of embryonic intestinal stem cells into adult intestinal stem cells and whether some of these cells are more likely to become cancer forming later in life."

Dr Soshnikova will carry out this work at the Institute for Molecular Medicine at the University Medical Center (UMC), Mainz, which is led by Prof. Ari Waisman. Dr Soshnikova elaborates, "The gut is a complex organ and we have only studied the epithelium so far. Our long-term plan is to understand how the organ is maintained as a whole. How both neurons and immune cells inside of the intestine maintain and talk to the epithelium is an area of developing research. In perusing this, it will be very important to have colleagues who are experts in these areas and the Institute for Molecular Medicine at UMC provides exactly that."

The full press release with further information can be found here