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About the Institute

Profile of Eric Campos

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Dr. Eric Campos

By: Brianna Bendici

Dr. Eric Campos, PhD

  • Scientist, Genetics & Genome Biology
  • Assistant Professor, Department of Molecular Genetics, University of Toronto

1. Where are you from?/Where did you study?
I was born in Mexico City, but Ottawa is my hometown.  I got my undergraduate degree from the University of Ottawa (B.Sc. with Honours in Biology), and my doctorate from the Experimental Medicine program at the University of British Columbia.  My postdoctoral tenure was held at New York University under the supervision of Dr. Danny Reinberg and in close collaboration with Dr. Jerry Hurwitz.

2. What are you researching right now?
My lab is working towards understanding mechanisms of ‘epigenetic’ inheritance. Epigenetics is a relatively new field of study and it essentially looks at how chromatin is controlled inside our cells. For example, we are made up of billions of cells and yet all of these cells have the exact same genomes. However, even though they share the exact same genes, a skin cell is different from a muscle or a liver cell etc. This has a lot to do with epigenetics. Epigenetics also deals with trait variations that are not due to gene mutations, but rather to changes in DNA (chromatin) organization. Epigenetics is crucial for proper development, but often goes awry in a large number of diseases.  We study how epigenetic states are transmitted through cell division and how is goes wrong in some cancers.

3. Who is your all-time favourite scientist and why?
So many scientists have contributed to our society that it’s hard to pick.  However, I will go with Rosalind Franklin because of her interesting and unfortunate history. She died at the age of 37 from cancer, probably due to the fact they didn’t use the protective gear that we do today when performing experiments. Her lab performed crucial experiments concerning how the 2 strands of DNA interact with one another. She accomplished more than most of us ever will and remains underappreciated for it. She was definitely on track to win a Nobel Prize before her death.

Otherwise, my former mentors Dr. Danny Reinberg and Dr. Jerry Hurwitz.remain high on the list for their fundamental contributions to our understanding of transcription and DNA replication, respectively.

4. What in your opinion is the most important scientific breakthrough and why?
Several scientific innovations have propelled biology forward. For example, Polymerase Chain Reaction which is used to amplify DNA fragments, or the use of the Green Fluorescent Protein to track molecules in living cells come to mind.  The recent adaptation of the bacterial immune system to edit genomes, pioneered by Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier, has already revolutionized some of the most fundamental aspects of biology and will continue to do so; it certainly is one of the most important, and recent, scientific breakthroughs.

5. What are your major interests outside the lab?
I am half Mexican so I love cooking Mexican food. My favorite dish to cook is Mexican tamales! I also enjoy baking whenever I get the chance. To me, cooking is very similar to being in the lab. You are using many ingredients, and if you’re like me, not following a recipe, it’s almost like running an experiment; which is not always successful. I also enjoy spending my time outdoors going hiking or camping with friends and travelling. The first time I left North America, I went to Lesotho, a very small African country and I had an amazing experience. I’d love to go back.

6. Why science?
I’ve always loved science even as a child. In Ottawa, I was able to choose a specialized high school that had a strong science program. Ever since then, biology fascinated me. Biology keeps evolving, and the prospect of finding fundamental molecular mechanisms that make our cells what they are is tremendously interesting to me.  In that sense, experiments are like a giant puzzle where we try to organize pieces together.

7. Why SickKids?
I’ve been at SickKids for about 6 months now and I’m still blown away by the science here. In addition to being a world-renowned institution that strives to find cures and improve treatments for devastating diseases, SickKids has a great environment that encourages innovation. Improving treatments cannot be achieved without understanding the root cause of each disorder and the Peter Gilgan Centre for Research and Learning at SickKids is composed of hundreds of scientists with various areas of expertise to accomplish just that. Overall, the SickKids environment fosters innovation and cutting edge-science and is a fantastic place to do science and to contribute to that major goal.

8. What is the most controversial question in your field right now?
The most controversial question is exactly one of the subjects we are tackling in my lab right now. To function, cells need to ‘shut-down’ and compact DNA regions that encode certain genes and conversely ‘turn-on’ other genes by making their DNA accessible, all of this using proteins called histones.  The mechanisms by which dividing cells maintain an ‘epigenetic memory’ of these using histones remains highly contested.  It’s however important for us to understand the exact molecular mechanisms by which epigenetic memory is inherited and maintained, as it is often deregulated in cancer and in a number of inherited paediatric disorders.

9. What are you reading right now?
I’m currently reading The End of Absence, a book by Michael Harris that explores our digital age and how it has, and continues to transform our habits. It is well written and very true. If you take the subway these days everyone around seems to be on his or her cell phones and I am guilty of this too. The book shows how drastically technology and society have changed in the past few years.

10. If you could give one piece of advice to someone considering a research career, what would it be?
I’d suggest following your interests and finding the best ways to develop them. It’s getting immensely competitive in the research field and most of your peers with whom you’ll compete for fellowships, grants and jobs will have amazing resumes. You need something that will help you stick out from the crowd to give you a competitive advantage. This can be a unique technique or biological system, for example. The best piece of advice I ever received was  to think of the most interesting biological question I could come up with… turns out I centered my career on it.  

11. What does the SickKids' Peter Gilgan Centre for Research and Learning (PGCRL) mean to you?
First of all, just walking into this building each morning is inspiring. The facilities are amazing and it is set up to enhance communication and collaboration. The brainpower and resources available in the PGCRL are immense. For me, that means maximizing insightful collaborations and opportunities to perform cutting-edge science. I can already see people in my labs communicating and troubleshooting with their peers in neighboring labs and this is absolutely fantastic.

May 2016

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