Skin, cornea and stem cells - an interview with Danielle Dhouailly
Interview | Published: 5 June 2009
Department of Pathology, Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California , USA
Danielle Dhouailly received her Bachelor of Science degree (Biology) from Paris University. She then worked on a Ph.D. with Philippe Sengel at Grenoble University. After that, she went to Canada and the USA to work with Drs. M. Hardy, R. Sawyer and H. Sun before going back to Grenoble and starting her own laboratory. In the 1970s, she began a series of creative epithelial-mesenchymal recombination experiments among chicken feathers, mouse hairs and lizard scales, and later between rabbit cornea / mouse hairs. Through these original experiments, she elegantly demonstrated that the dermis initiates the formation of cutaneous appendages, while their type is specified by the class and regional origin of the epidermis. Subsequently she showed that the induction of an ectodermal organ, even in an adult epithelium, provokes the appearance of the related tissue stem cells. These works pioneered the concepts which are used in stem cell biology today. Her laboratory now works on the molecular mechanisms underlying these processes. Her papers are typically characterized by an initial insightful observation, followed by rigorous experiments and thoughtful discussions. They are rich with different shades of perspectives, almost like a piece of impressionist art. She loves gardening and her pets. She considers herself a good observer and hard worker driven by curiosity. Her best moments occur when she suddenly becomes enlightened as to an explanation of a basic concept when looking at experimental results or discussing ideas with colleagues. She believes that good results last forever, although interpretations can change. Her advice to young scientists is to be rigorous at the bench, to think hard, and not to be shy to speak up. The following is the story of how this young, female naturalist grew into a well-respected developmental biologist.