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Lesly Calderon

Lesly Calderon just wrapped up her postdoc in the lab of Meinrad Busslinger. She is now a budding group leader at the Center of Allergy and Environment (ZAUM, Helmholtz Munich and Technical University Munich), addressing general molecular mechanisms of B cell differentiation into antibody-secreting cells and in allergic diseases. She is currently hiring her very first PhD student and tells us about her research plans.

Tell us about your new position.

I recently started working as a group leader at ZAUM, one of the institutes of Helmholtz and Technical University Munich. Researchers at this institute mainly conduct basic and applied research to understand the molecular mechanisms of allergies, and to develop ways to prevent or treat them.
At the IMP, I was a postdoc in the lab of Meinrad Busslinger. I collaborated with the lab of Johannes Zuber to develop an in vivo model for CRISPR/Cas9 screenings to identify novel molecules that regulate B cell activation and differentiation into antibody-secreting cells. After performing several of these screenings, I now have a list of genes that are highly expressed in antibody-secreting cells and that are required for the proper development of these cells. The functions of many of these genes are unknown. They encode a variety of proteins: from enzymes and transporters to adhesion factors. Some of these genes also affect other activated B cells, like germinal centre B cells. Inactivating these genes affects the whole development of the humoral immune response and I want to find out how.

How are you going to link this to the allergy field?

I want to establish a similar in vivo screening model to identify novel regulators of B cells that express immunoglobulin E (IgE). The production of IgE antibodies that are specific for environmental antigens is a critical driver of allergic diseases. The idea will be to use similar tools I’ve used in my postdoc to understand how these IgE-expressing B cells and IgE-secreting plasma cells develop, and how their development can be modulated.

Can you tell us more about your scientific journey?

I studied biochemistry at the University of Havana in Cuba and conducted my master’s research in allergy immunology in collaboration with the University of São Paolo in Brazil. For my PhD, I wanted to move somewhere else, so I applied to the International Max Planck Research School at the Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics. It felt like a dream that was out of reach, but I did get the position. During my PhD, I investigated the roles of several factors produced by the thymic epithelium for the early development of T lymphocytes. I had very challenging projects, but I really enjoyed my PhD experience, and I couldn’t have hoped for a better supervisor.
For my postdocs, I first moved to the Lymphocyte Development lab at the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences, and then to the IMP. In London, I investigated the role of cohesin in transcriptional regulation in neurons. I gained a lab experience in a field I wasn’t familiar with, and I learned a lot about the development of neurons and the nervous system, which is a very fascinating field for me. At the IMP, I shifted my focus back to immunology. First, I studied the role of the transcription factor Pax5 in regulating late B cell development; and then I tackled the development of the in vivo screening system for regulators of antibody-secreting cells. I’m very grateful for how much I have learned in Meinrad Busslinger’s lab and for his mentorship in the past few years.

I really enjoy training students. Seeing students grow and flourish as young scientists is extremely rewarding.

Lesly Calderon

You are now a recruiting #newPI. What are the next recruits you need for your team?

I’ve already got a research assistant to help me set up the lab. Right now, I’m looking for my first PhD student. One of the main things I’ll be looking for in a student is a high level of motivation and responsibility. I’m not looking for a skilled expert – I think students can develop many skills during their PhD – but I am looking for somebody with a strong theoretical background in immunology, molecular biology, biochemistry, or related disciplines. They should also be very excited about science and about what they do.

Can you think of an important characteristic of your future team?

I want my students to have their independent projects so that they can have a strong sense of ownership. However, collaboration is important to me, both within and between labs. I want my lab members to help each other in developing projects and running demanding experiments when needed. Bouncing ideas off each other can propel a project to the next level.

What should your future lab members know about your work culture?

Inclusivity is dear to me. I have a very different background from most scientists around me. I grew up in Cuba and I feel very proud of the education I had in my home country, but clearly, I didn’t have the same experiences as many of my colleagues had. I had supportive mentors and colleagues who always encouraged me. Positive environments have pushed me to places I never expected to reach. I remember that, as a PhD student, my PhD supervisor Thomas Boehm at the Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics gave me a lot of responsibility and never doubted my abilities. This helped me dodge a great deal of impostor syndrome, which is very common in scientists from underprivileged backgrounds, especially women. In my team, I want to give everyone the chance they deserve, and I’d like my team members to treat each other with respect. I want them to feel empowered and supported, regardless of their background.

Why should students consider joining your lab for a PhD?

I really enjoy training students. Seeing students grow and flourish as young scientists is extremely rewarding. The institute is part of the Helmholtz Center and the Technical University, which are very prestigious institutions. Students will have the opportunity to work in an empowering environment with high-end facilities and resources. All groups in the department have a lot of experience in immunology and allergy research, so students can draw expertise and tools from neighbouring labs. We’re also located at the Biederstein campus of the TUM School of Medicine and Health, which could offer very interesting collaboration opportunities. And finally, Munich is a great city to live in, catering to the nature lovers as much as the culture enthusiasts. It’s international, well-connected, and offers a high standard of living.


Interested in Lesly’s work? Contact her at lesly.calderon[at]

Read the ad for the open PhD position