Fränze Progatzky joined the Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology in October as a Kennedy Trust for Rheumatology Research (KTRR) Group Leader in Tissue Biology and a Wellcome Trust Career Development Fellow. She studies how cells of the peripheral nervous system interact with diverse cell types in both the gut and the lungs to promote health, and how these processes go wrong in inflammatory diseases. Before moving to the Kennedy, Fränze was a postdoctoral fellow at the Francis Crick Institute where she uncovered a role of glial cells in maintaining gut homeostasis and orchestrating immune responses to intestinal infection.
'For years it was assumed that glial cells were just humble bystanders, their only function to provide structural support to neurons. The word ‘glia’ actually comes from the Greek word for glue, which describes what we thought of their role!' said Fränze. 'Over the years, it has become clear that glial cells do so much more than holding nerves together. We now begin to realise that glial cells are involved in driving neurodegeneration in the brain, making them potential targets for therapies. We also know that they don’t just exist within the central nervous system, but also in the gut and the lungs! In the gut, for example, glial cells sense infection and injury and can regulate tissue repair. They are truly remarkable and understudied cells – unlike the contribution of epithelial, immune and stromal cells to inflammatory disease of the gut and the lungs, the role of glial cells is still poorly understood.'
Fränze will collaborate with other Kennedy research groups studying cell-cell interactions and molecular mechanisms underlying inflammation to understand the role of glial cells in health and disease. 'My work is highly complementary to the ongoing research at the Kennedy Institute studying diverse cell types and inflammatory diseases, which attracted me to the Institute' said Fränze. 'Understanding how different cell types communicate across different tissues and organs is so important for developing better treatment for inflammatory conditions. My research will benefit from the cutting-edge imaging and sequencing technologies at the Kennedy Institute.'
Tonia Vincent, Professor of Musculoskeletal Biology and lead of the Tissue Biology platform at the Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology, said: 'We are delighted to welcome Fränze to the Tissue Biology team at the KIR. Her work is an outstanding example of the importance of how lesser-known resident cells of tissues exert profound effects on biology; sitting at the interface between the structural tissue components and the immune system. We are looking forward to learning about their role in the context of inflammatory disease.'
Fränze is building a research group with strong interdisciplinary skills. 'To study the remarkable function of glial cells, we will need expertise across cellular biology, imaging, computational biology' she said. 'My research assistant and I are looking for passionate, friendly people for PhD, Postdoctoral and research assistant positions. If you have a background in tissue biology, neuroglial biology or cellular immunology and would like to be part of our group, we would love to hear from you!'
As well as her impressive scientific background, Fränze is an advocate for positive research culture and diversity, and making research more sustainable. 'Building a strong research environment is more than technical expertise. I’m really excited about promoting a positive research culture', said Fränze. 'To me, this means an environment which not only welcomes diversity but celebrates it. We can get so much from everyone’s uniqueness.'
Fränze is also invested in making research more sustainable. At the Francis Crick Institute, she onboarded the Laboratory Efficiency Assessment Framework (LEAF) initiative into her lab to improve its sustainability and efficiency. 'By encouraging sustainable practices we will reduce the big environmental impact of research and be in a better position to contribute to a sustainable future.'
Welcome to the Kennedy Institute, Fränze!