Interview with Gemma Gomez Giro, Postdoc in CONNECT Nervous-system-on-Chip

Dr. Gemma Gomez-Giro is a postdoctoral researcher at the Luxembourg Centre for Systems Biomedicine of the University of Luxembourg in the Developmental & Cellular Biology group (Schwamborn Lab).

Dr. Gemma Gomez-Giro received her B.Sc. in Biomedicine from the Autònoma University in Barcelona, Spain, in 2013 and continued with her master studies at the Pompeu Fabra University in the same region. After completing her MSc degree she moved to Munich, Germany, with an Erasmus+ grant pursuing her wish to investigate neurodegenerative diseases. Following her interest in neurodegenerative disorders, in 2015 she started her PhD in Biology at the Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität in Münster, Germany. She received her degree in 2019 on the topic: Modelling Juvenile Neuronal Ceroid Lipofuscinosis by genome editing in human induced pluripotent stem cells and cerebral organoids.

What is the objective of your postdoctoral studies in CONNECT?

The objective of my postdoctoral studies in CONNECT is to help integrate the knowledge we have gathered in the Schwamborn lab concerning neurodevelopment and 3D organoid culture technology in order to achieve a functional connection between different elements of the nervous system. It is my goal to participate in the production and up-scaling of the central nervous system compartment, which should contain all the necessary elements to establish a network with the other elements on the chip. It is also my objective to work on the application of the system to study Parkinson’s disease.

What do you think (from the viewpoint of your respective scientific discipline) is the biggest challenge in combining chip technology with neurobiology?

In my opinion, the random configuration of organoid 3D cultures makes it difficult to precisely control their growth and directionality. However, on-chip platforms are already developing better tools to achieve more guidance and monitoring of the microenvironment, overcoming at the same time concerns regarding reproducibility. I believe the biggest challenge when bringing both aspects together is the need to incorporate multi-omics readouts and advanced imaging techniques to be able to capture interactions and physiological responses at the systemic level and gather high-throughput data from the microfluidic system. Necessarily, this has to be paired with advances in computational models that can support such data analysis in order to achieve faster and reliable outcomes.

If you were meeting an investor in an elevator, what would be your 15 seconds Message Map to pitch to this CONNECT stakeholder the importance of putting the next level in vitro model systems for the nervous system firmly on the map?

In the CONNECT project we believe that it is not possible to explain complex neurodegenerative diseases by looking at the different systems affected separately. Therefore, we aim to increase the complexity level of in vitro systems to establish a functional connection between different elements of the nervous system. In order to do that, the advances in on-chip technologies are crucial in helping us establish, examine and measure this interaction. CONNECT represents an important bridge from the bench to translational medicine, allowing us to gain insight in Parkinson’s disease pathology mechanisms. Moreover, CONNECT is an innovative, improved and attractive in vitro screening platform that could reduce time and cost of drug development and testing, replacing animal experimentation.