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Professor Wolf Reik appointed acting director of the Babraham Institute

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Professor Wolf Reik has been appointed acting director of the Babraham Institute.

It follows the death of Professor Michael Wakelam, who died from suspected a Covid-19 infection on March 31.

Prof Wolf Reik at the the Babraham Institute. Picture: Keith Heppell
Prof Wolf Reik at the the Babraham Institute. Picture: Keith Heppell

Prof Reik has been the institute’s associate director since 2004 and has headed up its epigenetics research programme since 2008.

Prof Peter Rigby, chair of the institute’s board of trustees, said: “Prof Reik is a world-class scientist, internationally renowned for his work in epigenetics, who has been at the Institute for over 30 years.”

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), which funds the institute, approved of the move, he said.

“The BBSRC fully support the board's appointment, which will ensure the institute continues to be strongly led, building on the excellent work of Prof Michael Wakelam. I know that Wolf will provide much needed leadership and stability during the uncertain times that we all face,” said Prof Rigby.

Prof Reik added: “I am really honoured by this appointment; I look forward to working with everyone at the Institute, the campus and with BBSRC.

Prof Wolf Reik at the Babraham Institute. Picture: Keith Heppell
Prof Wolf Reik at the Babraham Institute. Picture: Keith Heppell

“After Michael’s sad death, my primary aim is to bring us back to our labs in a safe and considerate fashion, and to jointly tackle the opportunities and challenges for the science of the Institute going forward strongly into the future.”

The study of epigenetics explores the set of instructions that alter how our genome behaves - by regulating gene expression - without changing our underlying DNA code.

Prof Reik explores the role of epigenetics in establishing cell fate and identity during mammalian development and also the process of epigenetic reprogramming.

From the earliest steps in human development, to how stem cells maintain their pluripotency - that is, their ability to change into different cells - Prof Reik’s lab is interested in some fundamental questions.

It also explores how the identity of cells is established during the process of differentiation, through which they change into all the different types of cells in our bodies.

Recently, the lab has been studying how the epigenome degrades with age - and whether there are ways of reversing this decay.

Prof Wolf Reik at the Babraham Institute. Picture: Keith Heppell
Prof Wolf Reik at the Babraham Institute. Picture: Keith Heppell

New technologies for single cell ‘multi-omics’ sequencing, which allows unprecedented insights into cell fate changes during development or ageing, have been developed by the lab.

Prof Reik has an interest in collaboration both inside and outside the institute and leads a Wellcome-funded consortium studying cell fate decisions during mouse gastrulation and organ development.

He obtained his MD in 1985 from the University of Hamburg, where he undertook thesis work with Rudolf Jaenisch before completing postdoctoral work with Azim Surani at the Institute of Animal Physiology, which is now the Babraham Institute. During this spell, he became a fellow of the Lister Institute of Preventive Medicine which, in 1987, provided funding for him to start his own independent research group.

He is honorary professor of epigenetics and affiliate faculty at the Stem Cell Institute at the University of Cambridge and associate faculty at the Wellcome Sanger Institute. A member of EMBO and the Academia Europaea, a fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences and the Royal Society, he has also been a member of funding committees such as UKRI-Medical Research Council, Cancer Research UK and Wellcome Trust.

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