About me

Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less. ― Marie Curie

I was born in a small Transylvanian town in Romania to a mixed Hungarian/Romanian family. From a young age I was interested in experimentation, with various objects and chemicals around the house, and later at school I developed a deep interest in Genetics and Biochemistry. While an undergraduate I was lucky to have had the opportunity to work for a few months in a lab in Czech Republic, which had international laboratory standards and I knew then, that I wanted to continue and develop my research skills in biological sciences. I was hooked.

I received my BSc in Biochemistry in 2000 and I remember seeing a poster that year advertising for an MSc/PhD Research School in Molecular Biology in Göttingen, Germany. I was most amazed by that poster, since Molecular Biology was a new discipline not taught at my university, and sent my application. I was one of the 20 lucky winners out of more about 300 applicants. I moved to Germany and embarked on a research journey that it is still on going.

During my MSc studies I developed an interest in Epigenetics, which was just taking off internationally and I wished to do my PhD on a molecular phenomenon governed by a group of evolutionarily conserved proteins, called the Polycomb proteins (PcGs). These proteins are responsible for orchestrating the genome function and determine body patterning by controlling expression of key developmental genes, called HOX genes. During my PhD I discovered that in living organisms these proteins are not static inside cells when silencing genes. Instead, they are constantly bouncing on and off those developmental genes and the fate of those cells could change any time. This work was published in Ficz et al., Development, 2005. This sparked my interest in what cell identity actually is, which is what I am currently researching on.

I remember reading many papers around epigenetics and there was one author that absorbed my attention, curiosity and interest, and that was Wolf Reik in Cambridge. I never thought that I would have a chance to join his lab for my postdoctoral work but I took a chance and applied for an open position. Boy I was lucky, despite the most gruelling interviews. In the years that followed I dedicated all my energy to research, which paid off. I have been at the forefront of the discoveries of the functions of the new epigenetic modification, 5-hydroxymethylcytosine (Ficz et al., Nature 2011); I identified signalling pathways in embryonic stem cells that induce widespread epigenetic reprogramming (Ficz et al., Cell Stem Cell 2013) and many other interesting discoveries.

In 2013 I competed for an Early Career Research position at Barts Cancer Institute (BCI), which was a fixed term contract for 3 years with tenure track. The programme of work focused on understanding the epigenetic nature of cancer initiation, specifically addressing the functional relevance of aberrant DNA methylation changes that occur during ageing and cancer.

Having mostly focused within the “blue-skies” world of academic and institutional research, I have collaborated widely, experiencing the research approaches, agendas and funding peculiarities of established as well as start-up industrial players, charitable organisations both large and small, clinical and applied research organisations, and of course academia and dedicated research institutes. My overall approach to research is to follow the interesting scientific questions, and to collaborate with colleagues who have an interest in answering those questions in a rigorous manner – an approach that is not without its challenges when working with industrial, clinical and translational partners.