ESPUNY CAMACHO Ira Mercedes

Professeur associé

Logisticienne de recherche principale

ESPUNY CAMACHO Ira Mercedes

Faculté de Médecine
Département des sciences biomédicales et précliniques
GIGA Stem Cells - Molecular Regulation of Neurogenesis

ULiège address
Bât. B36 Département des sciences biomédicales et précliniques
Quartier Hôpital
avenue Hippocrate 15
4000 Liège 1
Belgique
Local
GIGA/Stem Cells
Email
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Conseil sectoriel à la recherche et à la valorisation
Sciences de la Santé
Personal website (s)
Press Room ULiege

Biography

Short Bio

After completing my Bachelor and Masters degree in Chemical Sciences (Biochemistry and Molecular Biology) from the University Autonoma in Madrid, Spain, I have moved to Belgium to follow a Ph.D program in Biomedical sciences by the KU Leuven in the laboratory of Bart De Strooper. During my PhD I have focused on the search of new therapeutic molecular targets for the treatment of Alzheimers neurodegenerative disease.

In 2008, I have joined the laboratory of Pierre Vanderhaeghen, at ULB, Brussels, as a Chargé de Recherches Research Associate F.R.S.-F.N.R.S where I have focused on a novel approach to study human brain development and disease: The use of human pluripotent stem cells (hPSC). During this scientific experience I have pioneered the differentiation of hPSC towards cortical neurons in vitro and its application to study brain disease and brain repair.

As a part of my postdoctoral training in 2013 I have participated in an interuniversity collaboration in the laboratory of Bart De Strooper and Pierre Vanderhaeghen where I have worked on the generation of an in vivo disease model from hPSC to study Alzheimers disease.

In 2017 I have continued my scientific career abroad in the laboratory of Elena Cattaneo in the University of Milan, Italy, where I was awarded with a Marie Curie Intra-European Fellowship MSCA-IF 2017 for the generation of a new in vitro 3D organoid model from hPSC for the study of Huntingtons disease.

In 2019 I returned to Belgium to become a more independent researcher as Associate Principal Investigator (co-PI) GIGA-Stem Cells, and Head of the human iPS platform at the University of Liège. Since then I have led a young team focused on the generation of human models to study brain disease.

What I am interested in

I am interested in the generation of novel human in vitro and in vivo models that allow the study of human-specific aspects of brain neurodevelopmental and degenerative diseases. To that aim in my team we are generating in vitro 3D « mini brain » models from human pluripotent stem cells (hPSC), that are further patterned into different brain regions to recapitulate essential aspects of the biology of the human telencephalon, diencephalon and hindbrain. My team is also pursuing the generation of in vivo chimeric models through xenotransplantation of human brain cells into the mouse brain.

Alzheimers disease

Classical AD mouse models fail to recapitulate important pathological features of the diseased brain, highlighting the need for human models. To that aim I have pioneered the in vitro differentiation of cortical neurons from hPSC, as well as the generation of in vivo chimeric AD models through xenotransplantation of human neurons into the mouse AD brain. This work has revealed higher susceptibility of human neurons to toxic amyloid beta species when compared to mouse counterparts. The study of early pathological events in Alzheimers disease is particularly interesting for me since it can lead to the discovery of new therapeutic targets to combat disease.

In my team we aim to generate brain organoids composed of human neurons and human glia cell subtypes to recapitulate the essence of the Alzheimers disease human brain. This novel model will be instrumental to dissect early pathological mechanisms that can lead to synaptic pathology in the brain of Alzheimers disease patients. Moreover, we will develop a new in vivo model to study human brain cell types in vivo and early mechanisms of disease.

Research field

  • Sciences biomédicales en général

Scientific distinctions

  • Marie Curie Individual Intra-European Fellowship MSCA-IF-2017 (2017)
  • Chargé de Recherches Research Associate F.R.S.-F.N.R.S.-Collaborateur Scientifique (2008)
  • Ph.D. in Biomedical Sciences by the KU Leuven, Belgium (2007)