What is the current focus of your research, and what do you find most rewarding about your work?
My laboratory is focused on the development of a regenerative therapy for heart disease based on pluripotent stem cells. Much of our work involves testing stem cell-derived cardiomyocytes in various preclinical models of heart disease, plus we are continuously trying to refine the cells that we use. The heart is both a mechanical and an electrical organ, so we are particularly interested in understanding and improving the electrical properties of our cells, testing their ability to integrate and couple electrically with host muscle, and determining the electrocardiographic consequence of cell transplantation. There are many rewarding aspects to my job, but it is a great privilege to work with energetic trainees and to be involved in projects that have the potential to improve the lives of patients.
What led you to become a scientist and to stem cell research?
I have been interested in science for about as long as I can remember, and a couple of undergraduate research experiences really cemented this career decision for me. During graduate and medical school, I became absolutely fascinated with the heart and knew that I wanted a career in cardiovascular research. After residency, I did a postdoc with Chuck Murry in Seattle, and that’s when I caught the stem cell “bug”. I’ll never forget the day in 2002 that I saw a plate of spontaneously beating cardiomyocytes from pluripotent stem cells, and we work with these myocytes to this day.
What is the most exciting aspect of your work?
The thrill of discovery is the most exciting aspect of all science. The best experiments are the ones that don’t work out the way you expect but teach you new things about the world.
What guidance would you share in talking with trainees interested in pursuing your area of research?
Be creative, be persistent, and read both widely and deeply.
Do you have any mentors or individuals who have inspired you in your stem cell work?
I’ve been fortunate to have had many scientific role-models in the stem cell field, too many to list them all. In terms of folks who most directly influenced my own work, I’d highlight Chuck Murry for his focus and persistence, Gordon Keller for his curiosity, and Loren Field for his vision.
How do you spend your free time?
I enjoy soccer (both playing and watching), books (especially historical non-fiction), and movies (I collect vintage movie posters), but my favorite days are those that end with a good beer, at a good pub, with good friends.
What is something your peers would be surprised to learn about you?
I’m sort of a politics junkie and at one time worked in the national headquarters of a major U.S. presidential candidate.
What do you most value about your membership with the ISSCR?
The ISSCR annual meetings are a fabulous way to keep up with the latest advances in stem cell biology and to connect with old friends in the field. I am also especially proud of ISSCR’s visible leadership in public policy, ethics, and outreach. It is important that we in the stem cell community have a common forum to tackle these issues, particularly as these technologies increasingly transition to the clinic.
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