In profile: Dr Tiago Cunha Luis, Sir Henry Dale Fellow

Dr Tiago Cunha Luis, Sir Henry Dale Fellow, recently joined I&I from Imperial’s Department of Life Sciences. Here, he tells us more about his research background and interests.

Introduce yourself – who are you and what do you do?

Hi, I am Tiago. I am originally from Lisbon, Portugal, and I am a Senior Lecturer at the Centre for Inflammatory Diseases. I run a research lab where we investigate the molecular mechanisms by which the bone marrow microenvironment regulates haematopoietic stem cells (HSC) function during regeneration and in the development of haematological malignancies.

Can you tell us about your career so far – when did you join the College, and where were you working/studying before this?

I joined Imperial College in November 2018 as a Sir Henry Dale Fellow of the Wellcome Trust and The Royal Society. I initially joined the Department of Life Sciences and have recently moved my lab to the Department of Immunology and Inflammation. Before this, I did a PhD in Molecular Immunology at the Erasmus University in the Netherlands. After my PhD I came to the UK for my postdoctoral work, initially as an EMBO fellow and afterwards as a Kay Kendal Leukaemia Research Fellow.

Can you explain a bit more about your research interests, and what you’re currently working on as part of your Fellowship?

Our lab explores how the bone marrow microenvironment regulates HSC function. More specifically, we are investigating the role of inflammatory signals in the regulation of on-demand blood cell production in homeostasis and regeneration. Importantly, inflammation has been implicated in ageing-associated HSC clonality, skew in blood cell production and leukaemia development. Thus, we are further investigating how inflammatory signals that are otherwise critical for blood cell homeostasis can also contribute to clonal haematopoiesis and leukaemia initiation. Our long-term goal is to identify the molecular mechanisms involved in the cross-talk between HSCs and their surrounding microenvironment to device new therapeutic strategies for blood cells regeneration and leukaemia treatment, by targeting the niche HSCs depend on.

What initially sparked your interest in your current field of research?

I became passionate about extrinsic regulation of HSCs after doing my Master’s in the Lab of Prof Leonor Parreira, back in Lisbon, working on the role of Notch signals in haematopoiesis. The Parreira lab devised an in vitro system co-culturing bone marrow-derived stromal cells overexpressing Notch ligands with blood stem and progenitor cells, skewing their differentiation towards the T-cell lineage. These studies provided seminal evidence that we could tailor blood cell differentiation by manipulating their microenvironment.

What’s the most challenging part of your role?

The biggest challenge is to coordinate all tasks involved in running a lab, managing a team and teaching, while also running experiments, which is where I find the greatest fun and fulfilment.

And the most rewarding?

It is extremely rewarding to see people in the lab developing and coming back to discuss a great result they just obtained.

Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?

In five years’ time I expect to be more established as a group leader, and have made some significant contributions to our understanding of the HSC niche.

What are your biggest hobbies/passions when you’re not busy at work?

I love travelling, with family, friends or alone. I am always ready to go, whenever there is an opportunity. When I am not travelling, I have fun cooking, listening to music or visiting art galleries.

And finally: what’s one thing you’d like staff in the Department to know about you or your role that we haven’t already covered?

I recently got into DIY at home. Still lots of room to improve on that front though. Tips are welcome.