David Vilchez appointed to W2 professorship for "Integrated Stress Response Signaling”

21.06.2021 | TopNews Prof. Dr. David Vilchez

Prof. Dr. David Vilchez | Picture: Michael Wodak, MedizinFotoKöln

On July 1, 2021, Dr. David Vilchez will start his newly created professorship at the Cologne Cluster of Excellence for Aging Research CECAD (Cellular Stress Responses in Aging-Associated Diseases), an interfaculty biomedical research institution of the Faculty of Medicine and the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences. The professorship builds on his work at CECAD, where Vilchez has led a research group on "Proteostasis of Aging and Stem Cells" since 2014.

Vilchez and his team are investigating the role of proteostasis in the survival and function of stem cells. Proteostasis describes cellular processes that regulate protein synthesis, folding and degradation within the cell and thus protect the cellular proteome - the totality of all proteins in a living organism. Disturbances in this balance can shorten lifespan and cause cells to age prematurely. Age-related diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and neurodegeneration are also possible consequences.

Vilchez's research aims to gain a precise understanding of how stem cells maintain their proteome. His lab's main hypothesis is that protein quality control is a key determinant of stem cell function that can drive the aging process. Because experiments with mammalian embryonic stem cells have clearly demonstrated their ability to replicate continuously and the absence of senescence (growth arrest after limited cell division), Vilchez and his team are pursuing the hypothesis that these cells may represent a novel paradigm for studying the regulation of proteostasis and its demise in the aging process.

"We discovered that human embryonic stem cells have incredibly high proteasome activity compared to many non-stem cell lineages," he said. Proteasomes are cellular protein complexes that act as multicatalytic enzymes to degrade proteins, including disease-related proteins that are prone to aggregation. "One of the next big challenges will be to figure out how the proteostasis network affects stem cell function. We want to understand how this network can be adapted to alleviate age-related diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and Huntington's disease," Vilchez explains. "I am very pleased to be able to continue my research and teaching activities here in Cologne through this appointment."

Born in Spain in 1978, David Vilchez Guerrero received his Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Barcelona/Spain in 2001 and his PhD from the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB) there. As a postdoctoral fellow, he worked at the Salk Institute (La Jolla, USA) and the Li Ka Shing Center, University of California (Berkeley, USA). During his postdoctoral training, Vilchez investigated the role of proteostasis in human embryonic stem cells and long-lived mutants of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans. In 2016, he was awarded the IRB Alumni of Excellence Award, and in 2015 he received an ERC Starting Grant from the European Commission.