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EMBL Alumni Association Board member profile

Giulio Superti-Furga, Chair

Giulio Superti-Furga, Chair

Now: Director and CEO, Center for Molecular Medicine (CeMM), Vienna
Then: Team Leader, 1991 - 2004, Developmental Biology

Giulio is Scientific Director and CEO of the Research Center of Molecular Medicine of the Austrian Academy of Sciences and a visiting professor at the Medical University of Vienna. He performed his undergraduate and graduate studies in molecular biology at the University of Zurich, Switzerland, at Genentech Inc., South San Francisco, USA, and at the Institute for Molecular Pathology in Vienna (I.M.P.), Austria. He was a post-doctoral fellow and Team Leader at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) until 2004. For several years he served as professor of Biotechnology at the University of Bologna. In 2000, he co-founded the biotech company Cellzome Inc., where he has been Scientific Director and responsible for the Heidelberg research site. His most significant scientific contributions are the elucidation of basic regulatory mechanisms of tyrosine kinases in human cancers and the discovery of fundamental organization principles of the proteome of higher organisms. Giulio is a member of the Austrian Academy of Sciences and of the German Academy of Sciences Leopoldina. An Italian national born 1962, Giulio has an Austrian wife and two children.

2011 election statement: “The EAA is one of the communities I wish to be associated with most. I’ve had some terrific and entertaining years at EMBL, enjoying its great science as well as its young, dynamic and international environment. To represent this community is therefore a privilege. I have many ideas and inspiring projects which I would like to help materialise.”  

Marja Makarow, Vice Chair

Marja Makarow, Vice Chair

Now: Professor of applied biochemistry and molecular biology, University of Helsinki
Then: Postdoc, 1981 - 1983, Cell Biology and Biophysics; Finnish delegate in the EMBL Council; President of EMBC/EMBO; created Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland as part of Nordic EMBL Partnership.

Marja is professor of biochemistry and molecular biology and former vice-rector for research, doctoral training and innovation at the University of Helsinki. Currently, she is chief executive of the European Science Foundation in Strasbourg. She is a cell biologist, her interests covering the molecular mechanisms of translocation, folding, conformational repair and intracellular transport of glycoproteins. She has supervised 19 PhD theses, and supported 50 others as director of the Viikki doctoral school for molecular life sciences. She has developed doctoral training and researchers careers in European and national committees. Marja serves on boards, strategic councils and scientific advisory boards of several European top universities and research institutes. She is panel chair of the European Research Council Starting Grants scheme, has served as expert for research funding organisations in Europe and beyond, and steered research assessment exercises of several universities. She was president of the European Molecular Biology Conference (EMBC/EMBO) and delegate of Finland in the EMBL council. When vice-rector, she created the Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland that became part of the Nordic EMBL Partnership for Molecular Medicine. As vice-chair of the board of the Aalto University, she has contributed to the creation of this novel public-private university and to the renovation of the Finnish research system. She is former chair of the board of the technology transfer office owned by the University of Helsinki and the State of Finland, and of the jury of the world’s largest innovation prize, the Millennium Technology Prize. Marja is an advisor to the Finnish Government in the Council for Research and Innovation Policy, to the European Commission for the “People” programme of Framework programme 7, and to the EU Commissioner for Research and Innovation as vice-chair of the European Research Area Board.

2011 election statement: “On the EAA board, I propose to further the careers of young EMBL alumni by organising training and mentoring when they apply for ERC Starting Grants, and by facilitating ways for them to embark on careers provided by the EMBL Partnerships labs, Systems Biology in Spain, Regenerative Medicine in Australia and Molecular Medicine in Sweden, Norway and Finland.”

Maria Vivanco, Vice Chair

Maria Vivanco, Vice Chair

Now: Group Leader, CIC BioGUNE, Spain
Then: Predoc, 1987 - 1991, Gene Expression

María did her PhD at EMBL in Henk Stunnenberg´s laboratory, working on retinoid-dependent transcriptional regulation. She continued with her interest in steroid hormone receptors, focusing on the glucocorticoid receptor, in the laboratory of Professor Keith Yamamoto at the University of California San Francisco. After that, Maria became a team leader at the Institute of Cancer Research in London, studying the role of steroid hormone receptors in cancer progression. In 2005, she joined CIC bioGUNE as a group leader where her current interests are the relevance of estrogen and other signalling molecules to the proliferation and differentiation of normal and cancer stem cells of the human mammary gland. The estrogen receptor antagonist tamoxifen is a commonly used endocrine treatment for estrogen responsive breast cancer. Since development of resistance is a frequent clinical problem, a goal in the lab is to understand the molecular mechanisms underlying the development of resistance to tamoxifen and other types of anti-cancer therapies, and the roles that stem cells may play in this process. In addition, Maria has an interest in using mathematical models to investigate cancer stem cell population dynamics. It is hoped that this work will contribute to a deeper understanding of the responses of both normal and cancer breast stem/progenitor cells to changes in their cellular environment.

2011 election statement: “I am really excited about continuing the EAA initiatives, in particular, the European Molecular Biology Archive, which will provide a way to enjoy the evolving story of molecular biology.”

Annabel Goulding, Treasurer

Annabel Goulding, Treasurer

Now: Treasurer to the Meridian Society and Company Secretary to Tangent Films Ltd
Then: Head of Pay and Benefits, 2002 - 2011, Administration

Annabel joined EMBL as an internal auditor in 2002 and left as the Head of the Pay and Benefits section in human resources in 2011, also serving as interim Head of HR for a year during this time. "Keep it simple," Annabel reveals when asked for some housekeeping tips: "Don’t complicate your finances, and don’t fret about what else you could have done with your EMBL earnings.” 

Now Treasurer to the Meridian Society – a charity for the promotion of Chinese culture in the UK – and Company Secretary to Tangent Films Ltd – specialising in arts and science documentaries – Annabel handles financial transactions, prepares cost budgets, accounts and annual reports, making her very suitably qualified for this position.

2013 election statement: ““I am interested in the work of the EMBL Alumni Association – finance is not a popular discipline for everyone, so this niche gives me an opportunity to make a contribution. I anticipate some interesting discussions about what the Association can do to benefit the alumni community as ambassadors for EMBL, and some challenging questions from the board about the management of its financial affairs".

Gareth Griffiths

Gareth Griffiths

Now: Associate Professor, Institute of Molecular Biosciences, Oslo
Then: Group Leader, 1977 - 2009, Cell Biology and Biophysics

2011 election statement: “In my view the role of the EAA is to provide support to the laboratory. EMBL alumni provide an important network of former staff who are strongly connected to each of the EMBL member states. Many of these countries (such as Norway) are significantly under-represented in terms of staff at the EMBL. Despite its reputation, too few people in the member states are actually aware of the possibilities offered at EMBL. The alumni network is perhaps the best avenue to communicate this.”

Maj Britt Hansen

Maj Britt Hansen

Now: Photographic Designer, mbhstudios, Freiburg
Then: Photographer, 2001 - 2006, Core Facilities and Scientific Services

As a freelance photographer and graphic designer in the Freiburg area (southern Germany), Maj Britt has had quite a few enjoyable projects this year, providing images for annual reports, books and websites. She worked with alumnus Joachim Wittbrodt at the Centre for Organismal Studies (COS) Heidelberg, creating a booklet together with Russ Hodge (science writer) and Nicola Graf (graphics). This was also a good opportunity to visit other EMBL alumni at the University of Heidelberg and the DKFZ. Living with a vintner has naturally drawn Maj Britt into the wine-making and selling business. This has created a good balance between creative and entrepreneurial projects. Her latest personal project has been to build a small art gallery here in their “hof” (courtyard). This year she has exhibited new artists who have never had exhibitions before. It has been quite a success in terms of art sales and personal and professional development.

2011 election statement: “The EMBL Alumni Association is a place where old networks are rejuvenated and new contacts sprout. I personally see it as a potential platform for continuing the EMBL spirit in science, support, partnerships and friendships. I have met many 'ex-embloids' in my professional work and would like to contribute with my creativity both visually and technically.”

Des Higgins

Des Higgins

Now: Professor of Bioinformatics, Conway Institute, Dublin
Then: Group Leader, 1990 - 1996, EBI-Hinxton

Des is Professor of Bioinformatics at University College Dublin, Ireland where his lab works on “omics” data analysis and sequence alignment algorithms. They maintain and develop the Clustal package for multiple sequence alignment. Des wrote the first version of that in Dublin in 1988 and then moved to the EMBL Data Library group, in Heidelberg, in 1990 as a post-doc and later, staff scientist. At EMBL, he worked for Graham Cameron and collaborated heavily with Toby Gibson, who is still at EMBL and who still works on Clustal with Des’ team. In 1994, Des moved to the EBI- Hinxton with the Data Library where he stayed for two years. This coincided with the release of Clustal W, and later, Clustal X which became widely used and cited. Currently they have run out of letters and now work on Clustal Omega which is designed for making extremely large protein alignments.

2011 election statement: “As a result of my time at EMBL, I now have a fantastic network of colleagues, friends and collaborators in almost every European country. People who have not spent time working at EMBL are often badly informed as to the extent or value of this. I think the EAA has a key role in advertising and promoting the importance of EMBL in the member states to ensure continued participation by national governments, but also to ensure active participation by individuals in all the programmes.”  

Jacqueline Mermoud

Jacqueline Mermoud

Now: Scientific Staff, Babraham Institute, Cambridge, UK
Then: Predoc 1990 - 1994, Gene Expression

The primary aim of Jacqueline’s research is to understand the general principles that underpin the regulation of gene expression during cellular differentiation and mammalian development. In particular, how chromatin based-mechanisms initiate and maintain transcriptional silence and heritable instructions to preserve cellular identity and the correct proliferation status and what are the pathways and key players responsible. Most recently Jacqueline has addressed questions relating to epigenetic inheritance. To pass an intact genome from one generation to the next requires the re-establishment of the correct chromatin structure after its disruption by the passage of the replication fork. Jacqueline’s lab discovered that ATP-dependent chromatin remodeling plays an early, priming role in this process, required for the maintenance of epigenetic modifications to heterochromatin. Currently she is developing a project to understand the role of chromatin remodeling in stem cell biology. To complement her scientific career development, Jacqueline has been involved in science communication and business administration, completing a mini MBA. As a member of the EMBL Alumni Association board, she hopes to raise issues concerning the current challenging times with increased competition for diminishing research funding and fewer available research posts after post doctoral training, and to help the alumni community ensure that the investment in training, which is the cornerstone of the EMBL experience, is not wasted.

2011 election statement: “I am enthusiastic about the role of the EAA board in supporting the alumni and maintaining their links with EMBL as it continues to grow as a world leading research institute. The EAA is not funded by EMBL so I am keen to explore fundraising opportunities so we can develop and advance the initiatives of the Association for all alumni.”

Preben Morth

Preben Morth

Now: Assistant Professor, Centre for Molecular Medicine, Oslo
Then: Predoc, 2001 - 2005, Hamburg

The Morth's research group (The Morth laboratory) employs a structural systems biology approach to investigate the proteins involved in acid-base homeostasis and metal ion transport across the cellular membrane. A project recently started in the Morth group is focused on bicarbonate transporters from the kidney and brain and will benefit from the experience gained over the last several years of working with P-type ATPases. Bicarbonate transporters are involved in the exchange of acids and tightly control the regulation of intracellular pH across the plasma membrane. The system is strongly dependent on the ion gradients maintained by the P-type ATPases. The group aims to develop a complete structural model for anion transport and recognition. The structural analysis of P-type ATPases will also continue with focus on the prokaryotic Ca2+-ATPases and Mg2+-ATPases, as well as Na+/K+-ATPase, from both eukaryotic and prokaryotic origin. Morth’s group also has a keen interest in homology modeling, which is used to link known disease models to structural information. The structural interpretation of both homology models and experimentally determined structures has lead to drug discovery and drug design.

2011 election statement: “The international environment that is represented at EMBL is reflected in the EAA, which indeed makes it a powerful human resource and knowledge source for every one to make use of. I strongly believe that a key source to personal and scientific development is to live in different countries and work in different laboratories. I would like to strengthen the network between the EMBL and EMBL partner nodes in Northern Europe, where I recently started as group leader.”

Joep Muijrers

Joep Muijrers

Now: Venture Capital, Life Sciences Partners, Amsterdam
Then: Predoc, 1997 - 2001, Gene Expression

After leaving EMBL in 2000, Joep was involved in an EMBL spin-off company, Gene Bridges, which he joined as co-founder and business development director. In 2001, he went back to the Netherlands, joining the investment banking department of one of the larger Dutch banks (now part of ABN AMRO). In this position, which he held for 5 years, Joep was involved in financial and strategic transactions for European and US-based life sciences companies. In 2006, he was also involved in technology transfer, heading up a team of people responsible for commercialization of academic findings at the University of Maastricht, as well as the Academic Hospital in Maastricht. In early 2007, Joep transferred to become a partner at LSP, one of Europe's largest investors in life sciences. Since then, he has been investing in biotech companies on both sides of the Atlantic. Joep is married and has 3 children.

2011 election statement: “The key tasks of the EAA is to promote the spirit of excellence that characterises EMBL and to foster collaboration amongst its alumni, many of whom are at the forefront of the rapidly changing life sciences sector today. As an active investor in companies focused on the life sciences, and based on my experience and knowledge in raising funds for European and US-based life sciences companies, I believe I may have a synergistic perspective on how to promote fruitful collaboration between academia and businesses.”

Anastasia Politou

Anastasia Politou

Now: Assistant Professor, University of Ioannina Medical School
Then: Postdoc, 1991 - 1995, Structural and Computational Biology

Anastasia worked as a post-doctoral fellow in the Structural Biology and Biocomputing Programme of EMBL from 1991 to 1996. She holds a B.Sc. degree in Chemistry from the University of Athens, Greece and a Ph.D. degree from New York University in USA. She is currently Assistant Professor of Biological Chemistry at the University of Ioannina, School of Medicine in Greece and a member of Biomedical Research Institute of the Foundation for Research and Technology-Hellas. She has been teaching Biochemistry, Structural Biology and Physical Biochemistry courses for undergraduate and graduate students of Medicine, Chemistry and Biology and supervised several Master’s and Ph.D. theses. Her administrative work includes the establishment and management of the first High Resolution NMR facility in Greece and of the Circular Dichroism and Microarray facilities at the University of Ioannina. Her research interests lie in the area of Structural and Computational Epigenetics. Ongoing research focuses on different aspects of epigenetic regulation, aiming at characterizing the structural determinants and the dynamics of chromatin-associated proteins and protein complexes employing a wide spectrum of biophysical and computational techniques. The Politou group has determined by NMR the structures of representative chromatin-associated protein modules of nuclear proteins (e.g., chromodomain, TUDOR domain) and explored their interactions with chromatin. It is also involved in modelling the conformational properties and association tendencies of novel experimentally verified histone modification patterns based on MD simulations. Current projects also address the effect of post-translational modifications on the structure-function relationships in intrinsically disordered nuclear proteins.

2011 election statement: “I’d like the new board to maintain the unique EMBL spirit of collegiality, to strengthen the connection between alumni and today’s EMBL, to help those who leave EMBL make a smooth transition, and to document and make public a study on the impact that EMBL has had on European science. I would also like to see the John Kendrew Award continue and be complemented by more help to deserving EMBL alumni.”  

Sarah Sherwood

Sarah Sherwood

Now: Head of Communications and External Relations, Institute for Research in Biomedicine, Barcelona
Then: OIPA Officer, 1999 - 2007, OIPA

Sarah is currently at the Institute for Research in Biomedicine in Barcelona, Spain, where she heads up the Office of Communications and External Relations. IRB Barcelona was launched from scratch in 2005. The past 6 years have marked a setting up phase from the scientific and administrative infrastructures, to the launching of a variety of activities, such as PhD and postdoc programmes, as well as scientific conference series and outreach and communications activities. Many of these activities have been based on successful EMBL models, but adapted to our local requirements. My specific areas of activity include overseeing press and media relations, website and institutional publications including annual reports and newsletters, scientific course and conference organization, as well as a number of outreach and education activities. We have just finished a collaboration with the ELLS team at EMBL to run our first LearningLab for local high school teachers, which was a great success. We plan to similar courses to our growing list of activities for the future.

2011 election statement: “Interactions with the EMBL community have come in many forms for me - meeting up with ex-colleagues at events, collaborating on projects, or simply a quick phone call to ask for advice. For me, this typifies the value of the EAA. It provides a real and practical framework to stay connected to an incredible network of talented and resourceful people. It also allows us to give back to that community. Having spent many years of my time at EMBL deeply involved in helping the Association on its way to reach its goals, I am now honoured to stand for election to the board.”