First Person is a series of interviews with the first authors of a selection of papers published in Journal of Cell Science, helping early-career researchers promote themselves alongside their papers. Sherif Khodeer is first author on ‘ ALKBH5 regulates somatic cell reprogramming in a phase-specific manner’, published in JCS. Sherif conducted the research described in this article while a postdoctoral research fellow in John Arne Dahl's lab at Oslo University Hospital. He is now a postdoctoral research fellow in the lab of Vincent Pasque at University of Leuven Department of Development and Regeneration, Leuven B3000, Belgium, investigating reprogramming, pluripotency and early development.

Sherif Khodeer

How would you explain the main findings of your paper in lay terms?

During embryonic development, our cells start to divide and commit towards specific types from which our different organs are made. One of the most valuable cell types are the embryonic stem cells (ESCs), which can be isolated at a specific time point before implantation. These ESCs are pluripotent, which means they have the capacity to form different cell types, depending on the species. Recently, it has been reported that counterparts of these ESCs can be established from somatic cells, which are then called induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). The molecular mechanism is still not fully understood as it includes several events. Here, we clarified the precise role of ALKBH5 in this process, which could help us to better understand the reprogramming process from another angle and strengthen our knowledge on the role of RNA modification in this process.

Were there any specific challenges associated with this project? If so, how did you overcome them?

The main challenges were during the COVID-19 time, as things started to go very slowly, including supply shortages and more restrictions regarding the working environment. The key challenge was when I went on vacation in my home country; then the borders closed and my VISA expired, and I was not be able to get back. By that time my project was stuck and lagged behind for almost 9 months as I was the only one doing experiments. However, I was able to get back and, by working hard, managed to complete the work.

When doing the research, did you have a particular result or ‘eureka’ moment that has stuck with you?

I think the project went well in general. The only moment I didn't feel that way, was when establishing the transgenic mice, which took some time to obtain sufficient numbers. However, it was worth waiting as supporting the loss-of-function data with genetic deletion was essential to prove our hypothesis from a different direction.

Why did you choose Journal of Cell Science for your paper?

Indeed, I had several discussions with some colleagues and PIs who strongly supported the submission to Journal of Cell Science. Based on their experience and what I heard from scientists who had the chance to be in touch with JCS, it has a rigorous, fair and fast reviewing process. That is exactly what I was looking for and what I have experienced for my paper.

The precise role of ALKBH5 in somatic reprogramming.

The precise role of ALKBH5 in somatic reprogramming.

Have you had any significant mentors who have helped you beyond supervision in the lab? How was their guidance special?

Yes, indeed. During the revision, I had to ask two different groups for some materials, which I received very quickly, and this was enough to help me convince the reviewers of our hypothesis. In addition to that, I had a colleague who was very supportive during our discussion about the project and also of our findings. We had frequent meetings, and I really appreciated listening to his feedback.

What motivated you to pursue a career in science, and what have been the most interesting moments on the path that led you to where you are now?

During my short journey in science, I had the full support from my late father who died during the middle of my masters degree. However, the support was continued by all my family members (my mother, brother and sister), and all my friends. Indeed, I hope I will have the chance to return back their favors. Through their support and motivation, I was able to work in different scientific environments, like Egypt, Japan and Norway, and nowadays in Belgium.

Who are your role models in science? Why?

Actually, this question is really hard to answer as there are lots of scientists whom I really appreciate and for whom I wish to follow in their steps. But I will go particularly for Professor Hitoshi Niwa; I was really lucky to work together with him in the same building and had the chance to visit his lab. All I can say is he is very simply a great scientist and very supportive. Despite the fact that I left Japan after my PhD, we are still in contact and hopefully one day we will be able to collaborate on a project. I would like also to mention scientists like Jacob Hanna, Shinya Yamanka, Rudolf Jaenisch, Mitinori Saitou and other great scientists who are really amazing and do all their best to help humanity.

What's next for you?

I have already started a new position as a senior post-doctoral research fellow in KU Leuven in Vincent Pasque's group. I hope we can do great work together, and I am very excited about it.

Tell us something interesting about yourself that wouldn't be on your CV

I was actually a professional soccer player, but I switched my career to science and nowadays I practice only with friends. I also go to the gym almost every day. I think combining sports with science is amazing and doing sports always helps to refresh your mind.

Sherif Khodeer's contact details: University of Leuven Department of Development and Regeneration, Herestraat 49, O&N4 Leuven B3000, Belgium


J. A.
ALKBH5 regulates somatic cell reprogramming in a phase-specific manner
J. Cell Sci.