• Member Spotlight on Outi Hovatta, MD, PhD

    Helsinki, Finland

    Current Residence:
    Stockholm, Sweden

    Graduate Degrees:
    MD, PhD at University of Helsinki

    Postgrad work:
    Imperial College, London, UK

    Current Position:
    Professor, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden

    Editor’s note: Dr. Hovatta has been a member of the ISSCR Membership Committee since 2012.

    What is the current focus of your research?

    After working as an IVF gynecologist and scientist for many years – at first in Finland and then in Sweden – mainly focusing on cryo-preservation of gametes and ovarian and testicular tissues as fertility preservation options and maturing oocytes and ovarian follicles in vitro, I saw our unique possibilities in regenerative medicine. 

    Every day we had supernumerary human embryos from donors who already had their children. From those extra embryos, we were among the first in Europe to start making human embryonic stem cell lines (hESC), and now we have more than 60 such lines. To get them into the clinic was my ambition from the very beginning. 

    We managed to use human skin fibroblasts from the very beginning, and soon also from the use of fetal bovine serum. Then, we began to isolate the inner cell mass mechanically instead of using desired fetal bovine serum. In collaboration with Professor Karl Tryggvason at the Karolinska Institutet, we explored the natural niche in the extracellular matrix surrounding the cells in human embryos three days after in vitro fertilization. Karl and his group managed to produce these huge human proteins in human cells. These biologically active intact recombinant human laminins proved to allow outstanding culture conditions for derivation and propagation of hESC. We can now effectively work without feeder cells and without any animal-derived substances in the cultures.

    Now my team and I at the Karolinska Institutet are working on xeno-free, feeder cell-free differentiation of retinal pigment epithelial cells from hESC, and their functional testing. We are preparing for a clinical trial in treating the dry form of macular degeneration that is the most common loss of vision in the Western world. We are focusing on the immunogenicity of hESC-differentiated cells and manners to avoid rejection. There are many other disorders I hope we can, in collaboration with many other groups, use in curing severe diseases.

    What led you to become a scientist and to stem cell research?

    I have had a desire to become a scientist since I was as a teenager. I would trek in the wild, often together with my father who was a professor at the Helsinki University of Technology, and I was fascinated by plants and birds. I desired to become a biologist, but my father heard from his friends that the research possibilities were better in the medical faculty, so I chose that field instead. I started my thesis work in reproductive medicine already as a medical student. 

    Clinical in vitro fertilization was a natural way forward at the time when it became possible. That made it possible to initiate stem cell work from the supernumerary embryos in Stockholm later on.

    How do you spend your free time?

    I still go out to the forest as often as I can, now frequently accompanied by my husband or my grown children or my small grandchildren. I row on the lakes for long distances, run, and cross-country ski while thinking a lot at the same time. 

    Nature photography is also one of my great interests. We have a cottage in Southern Finland next to a large nature park, and there we spend as much time as possible. But there are excellent opportunities also in the Southern suburban areas in Stockholm, close to the Karolinska University Hospital Huddinge campus where my laboratory is located.

    What is one thing your peers would be surprised to learn about you?

    That I can move 20-30 km (12.5-18.5 miles) a day in the wild, and during that time gain a lot of understanding for scientific problems through focused thinking. Together with my family members, we also visit 4,000-6,000 m (13,125-19,700 ft.) high mountain summits, utilizing ice and rock climbing skills.

    What do you like most about living and working where you do?

    I feel enthusiastic in finding new things, both in research and out in the wild, and listening to classical music. 

    But my family, my husband, two scientist daughters, one singer, and an economist son, and all my grandchildren give great happiness to my life.

    What do you gain from your membership with the ISSCR?

    Continuous access to most recent stem cell research data.
  • Member Spotlight on Becky Tsai, PhD

    Chino, CA, USA

    Current Residence:
    Pasadena, CA, USA

    Undergraduate Degrees:
    BA in Biology, Scripps College in Claremont, CA, USA

    Graduate Degree:
    PhD in Biomedical Sciences, University of California, Irvine

    Current Positions:
    CIRM Postdoctoral Scholar Laboratory of Ravi Bhatia, City of Hope National Medical Center; President/Chair of the City of Hope Postdoctoral Association; Advisory Chair of Crescendo Young Musicians Guild

    Editor’s note: Dr. Tsai was the winner of a member raffle at the 12th Annual Meeting in Vancouver. By visiting the ISSCR Central booth, her name was entered and randomly chosen to receive complimentary registration to ISSCR 2015. See us in Stockholm for a chance to win a local prize courtesy of the Stockholm Visitors Board or complimentary registration to ISSCR 2016.

    What is the current focus of your research?

    I am investigating the pathogenesis of therapy-related myelodysplasia( t-MDS). The t-MDS group in Dr. Ravi Bhatia’s laboratory have designed a prospective, longitudinal evaluation of lymphoma patients undergoing autologous HCT at the City of Hope National Medical Center. In addition to relevant clinical information and detailed therapeutic exposure data, blood and marrow samples are collected and banked (pre-aHCT and after treatment for up to 10 years). This study design allows for serial assessment of cellular and molecular abnormalities in hematopoietic cells over a period extending from genotoxic exposure to the development of t MDS.

    What led you to become a scientist and to stem cell research?

    My affinity for research developed during my undergraduate studies in biology at Scripps College when I recognized that at the core of diseases is the loss of control over very intricate networks of molecular signals. Since then, I have been fascinated by the molecular mechanisms that contribute to tumorigenesis in the stem cell niche and the genetic markers that signal cancer development and progression. My long-standing interest lies in the development of tools that contribute to improving patient diagnosis and treatment.

    How do you spend your free time?

    I love podcasts and photography. I am inspired by the artistry in storytelling and the honesty and power of still photos. My playlist will always include "This American Life", “Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!", "The Moth", and "Hardcore History". I have been testing out several science podcasts and am happy to say that I’ve started to follow The Stem Cell Podcast [the official podcast of the ISSCR that focuses on providing fellow scientists up-to-date information on recent literature and trends].

    As a photographer, I am moved by images that tell a story. I have great admiration for many types of work from Ansel Adam’s magnificent landscapes to the raw portraits from Humans of New York. I miss the days when I had the time and access to develop my own black and white film shots. These days I get my photography fix by shooting weddings, concerts, or family events.

    What is one thing your peers would be surprised to learn about you?

    Although I wouldn’t describe myself as a musician, I co-founded a non-profit youth music organization, Crescendo Young Musicians Guild (CYMG.org). I was inspired by some close friends – including the current president of CYMG, Pin Chen – to help close the gap that the Los Angeles school district left when art and music budgets were cut. The purpose of CYMG is to offer free and low-cost music classes for youth in the Los Angeles area and provide opportunities for them to perform for the community Music is a wonderful way for people of all ages to connect and communicate.

    Since I have always been interested in community outreach and have worked with local K-12 educators on science workshops, I knew the importance of this endeavor. Also, I think that music is often overlooked as a form of entertainment. It is truly a language of its own and a unique and important form of communication. 

    What do you like most about living and working where you do?

    I work, live, and commute along the beautiful foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains in Southern California. The beaches are a just a podcast away. The weather and view is as amazing as you imagine it to be in Southern California. City of Hope is an exceptional institution for translational research. Being a major cancer hospital as well as a research center, our patients remind us of the purpose of our research and inspire us to persevere for better diagnoses and treatments.

    What do you gain from your membership with the ISSCR?

    I am proud of being a member of a community of researchers that gathers regularly to discuss critical issues of stem cell research and policies. ISSCR has provided a wonderful forum for networking and collaborations. ISSCR has been very supportive of young researchers and connecting them with the stem cell community. I was very impressed by the ISSCR Annual Meeting in Vancouver and the number of young investigators that were highlighted at the conference.
  • Member Spotlight on Steven Kattman, PhD

    Evergreen, CO, USA

    Current Residence:
    Madison, WI, USA

    Graduate Degrees:
    Ph.D. Immunology, University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, Denver, CO, USA 

    Postgrad Work:
    Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York, NY; University Health Network, Toronto, ON, Canada

    Current Positions:
    Senior Group Leader, Cellular Dynamics International, Inc. (CDI), Madison, WI, USA

    What is the current focus of your research?

    The current focus of my research is product and assay development of human iPSC-derived cell types. These human iPSC-derived cells are then used in drug discovery, toxicity testing, basic life science research and ultimately regenerative medicine. In order to achieve this we interrogate and harness the cellular and molecular mechanisms of developmental biology to differentiate the iPSCs toward the desired cell types and, importantly, with the appropriate functionality. In addition, we couple these developmental pathways to process optimization in order to achieve the yield and consistency necessary for product development. 

    For me, being able to apply my post-doc training in developmental biology into cell product development has been tremendously rewarding. Using pluripotent stem cells we can generate nearly pure cultures of relevant human cells that are transformative for the pharmaceutical industry and academic scientists alike. It is exciting to play a role in this quickly evolving field.

    What led you to become a scientist and to stem cell research?

    I have always been interested in the natural sciences, however, I never considered it as a career path until during my undergraduate work where I had exposure to microbiology and immunology. This piqued my interest and led me to pursue a Ph.D. in immunology at the University of Colorado, studying T-cell development. 

    My intent for post-doc training was to study developmental biology in the laboratory of Gordon Keller. For this purpose, differentiation of embryonic stem cells was a terrific emerging model system. Initially we set out to isolate a mesoderm population that, during differentiation, could give rise to the hematopoietic lineages. To our surprise, once sorted and re-plated, our population of interest didn’t give rise to hematopoietic cells but did give rise to contracting monolayers of cardiomyocytes. A few adjustments in our hypothesis and the primary focus of my work was on cardiovascular development. 

    Career altering surprises like this are what keep me fascinated by stem cell research. Since that point, I have continued to work in the field of cardiovascular development and maintained a deep involvement in the exciting and ever-growing field of stem cell research.

    How do you spend your free time?

    I spend the majority of my free time enjoying life with my wife and two children. We try to take any opportunity for an adventure. We especially enjoy traveling to Chile, where my wife is from, to explore the amazing country (and escape the long Madison winters). The attached picture is my son and I on Villarrica volcano in Chile.

    In addition, I can be found cycling (mostly cyclocross), skiing and cooking.

    What is one thing your peers would be surprised to learn about you?

    I am fascinated by sharks, especially prehistoric sharks. I have a collection of prehistoric shark teeth which track the evolution of large sharks from Otodus Obliquus to the Megalodon. These are displayed in my dining room and are good conversation pieces, especially given that the largest tooth is 5.5 inches long. 

    I started collecting because it gave me a tangible way to experience earth’s history through this remarkable animal. Unfortunately, there aren’t many good sites to find shark teeth where we are located now, although other marine fossils are abundant. So, I have to conduct my search for fossil teeth at rock shops and on Ebay. 

    I suppose this would be surprising because I have only lived near the ocean for a few years while in NYC.

    What do you like most about living and working where you do?

    In regard to working at CDI, I primarily enjoy the teamwork required in a biotechnology company. I work with an extremely talented group of scientists, as well as business people, that stay focused on achieving common goals. 

    In regard to living in Madison, it is a great place to raise a family. In addition, Madison is a hidden gem for cycling. There are endless miles of beautiful rolling country roads and trails just outside of town.

    What do you gain from your membership with the ISSCR?

    I think it is very important for the stem cell community to have a common forum to discuss research as well as policy, particularly as the field progresses toward translational medicine. The website and annual meeting help me stay abreast with the cutting edge research and trends in the field. 

    In addition, the annual meeting has always been a wonderful time to network as well as reunite with colleagues. 
  • Member Spotlight on Lygia V. Pereira, Ph.D.

    Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

    Current Residence:
    São Paulo, Brazil

    Graduate Degrees:
    M.S. in Biophysics from Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Ph.D. in Biomedical Sciences (Human Genetics) from CUNY/Mount Sinai Graduate School, NY. 

    Postgrad Work:
    Human Genetics, University of São Paulo, Brazil

    Current Positions:
    Full Professor at the National Laboratory of Embryonic Stem Cells (LaNCE) Department of Genetics and Evolutionary Biology at University of São Paulo, Brazil

    What is the current focus of your research?

    My group has established lines of hESCs from the Brazilian population to (1) provide the cells for our cell therapy scientific community, and (2) to study X chromosome inactivation, an old research interest of my lab. 

    More recently, our main focus turned to the use of PSCs to study differential drug response in vitro. The Brazilian population is one of the most heterogeneous worldwide, a result of its history of colonization and five centuries of interethnic crosses among Europeans (mostly Portuguese), Africans and Amerindians. Our objective is to develop a library of hiPSC that represents the genetic heterogeneity of the Brazilian population to be used for in vitro studies of drug response and toxicity. We have collected primary cells from 2,000 participants of an ongoing multicenter cohort study (Brazilian Longitudinal Study of the Adult Health – www.elsa.org.br), and generated 22 lines of hiPSCs, 6 of which from individuals with resistant hypertension. We will collect primary cells from all 15,000 participants, and generate a proof-of-principle library of hiPSCs from hypertensive individuals responsive and resistant to pharmacological intervention. This expertise also allows us now to engage in the HaploBank project, and contribute with cells from our population.

    What led you to become a scientist and to stem cell research?

    I don´t remember when I decided to become a scientist; it just happened. I guess it was basic curiosity and an excellent genetics teacher in high school. That did not turn me into a scientist, but it was enough to – during my undergraduate in Electric engineering – make me look more into what was generally called genetic engineering. Then, a very generous preceptor accepted me as a trainee in a lab that studied molecular biology of development in drosophila, and that experience made me shift my major to Physics (I have a B.S. in Physics), and eventually to pursue a Ph.D. in human molecular genetics.

    I started working with stem cells at the end of my Ph.D. at Mount Sinai, in NY, doing homologous recombination in ES cells to generate a mouse model for Marfan syndrome. At that time I saw ES cells just as a mean to get to the mouse model. Once back home, in 1996 I set up my own lab with a grant to establish the mouse-KO technology in Brazil. When human ESCs came along, our group had the most experience with pluripotent stem cells (although at that time I had no idea how different the human cells were from their mouse counterparts), and a few years later the Brazilian government started investing in regenerative medicine. So we got a grant to establish lines of hESCs (Jeanne Loring and her group were crucial to our success!). 

    Our own research interest was to study XCI in those lines, but we provided the cells and training to many groups in Brazil interested in their use in cell therapy. Four years ago we became interested in the use of these cells to predict drug response in vitro, and we have since developed the framework to generate the cell library. Our hypothesis is that cell-based assays will become very robust, and when that happens, we will have the Brazilian population in a dish for in vitro clinical trials.

    How do you spend your free time?

    I spend most of my free time with my family (husband and two daughters, 11 and 9), or playing squash. When I’m at the beach, I enjoy stand up paddleboarding. Although I am originally from Rio, I very much enjoy São Paulo´s cultural life and diversity of people.

    What is one thing your peers would be surprised to learn about you?

    That I would give up my academic career for one on Broadway, singing in a Cole Porter or Gershwin musical. Actually, something smaller, like singing with a jazz band, would be enough. There is no risk of Brazil losing a stem cell scientist, though. I’ve been taking singing lessons on and off for years, basically just for fun, and I sing in an annual charity event. But this love for singing does not show at all in my professional life.

    What do you like most about living and working where you do?

    Once I decided to go back to Brazil, I traded Ipanema for FAPESP – the São Paulo State Funding Agency. That is, I traded my hometown beaches for the consistent funding one finds in São Paulo. I enjoy the very professional way things are done here. Between FAPESP and USP (University of São Paulo), I think I have the best working conditions possible in Brazil. Although doing research here can be challenging (mostly because of bureaucracy and delays in getting reagents), I have a great feeling of making a difference; in establishing a legal framework for SC research, in science education, and in translating science to the general population. And, why not, in the research we do?

    As for living in São Paulo, five years in NYC prepared me to live in this very urban city and enjoy its diversity. I have met so many interesting people here, including my husband! 

    Why did you decide to go back to Brazil and when?

    At the end of my Ph.D., in 1994, I got a post-doc offer at Stanford, with [Professor of Genetics and of Pediatrics, Emerita] Uta Francke. By that time, I was away from Brazil for 5 years, and since I always thought of going back at some point, I decided to spend a few months at home in order to know the local state of the art, and plan my post-doc in the US so as to bring innovation back to my country. Those “few months” became 20 years now. Things turned out OK for me, but I do regret missing the Stanford experience.

    What do you gain from your membership with the ISSCR?

    One thing is access to articles. Another thing I gain is the ability to interact with other researchers. The interaction with the scientists is a much richer experience than simply reading the articles. For example, the collaboration we established with [Founding Member of the Stem Cell Program in the Johns Hopkins Institute for Cell Engineering (ICE)] Lingzhao Cheng was paramount for our cell library project – and that is a relationship made through the ISSCR. 

    Also, being part of a larger SC community and participating in a forum where the different aspects of SC research are discussed is critical. The forum is very important for guiding us in developing, regulating and communicating stem cell research in Brazil.
  • Member Spotlight on Timothy Caulfield, LLM, FRSC, FCAHS

    Cape Cod, MA, USA (but I think of Canada and Edmonton as home)

    Current Residence:
    Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

    Graduate Degrees:
    BSc; LLB (Alberta); LLM (Dalhousie) 

    Postgrad Work:
    Started my career as a research associate at the Health Law Institute!

    Current Positions:
    Canada Research Chair in Health Law & Policy;
    Trudeau Fellow and Professor, Faculty of Law and School of Public Health;
    Research Director, Health Law Institute, University of Alberta

    What is the current focus of your research?

    Our terrific team uses both empirical and conceptual approaches to explore the policy challenges associated with stem cell research. We have analyzed how best to regulate the field and the social forces that have shaped the policy debates using a range of methodologies, from traditional legal methods, to structure interviews and surveys, to systematic media analysis. And our team reflects this breadth. Our work is very international in scope. Indeed, that is one of the great assets of working with the ISSCR. We have, for example, a linguist, a qualitative research, a science and technology expert and, of course, legal scholars. It is a great team.

    We are currently doing a good deal of research on the marketing of unproven stem cell therapies, including an exploration of the scope, nature and drivers of this challenging problem.

    What led you to become a scientist and to stem cell research?

    When I was in law school, I had the opportunity to do research in the area of health law. I fell in love with both the interdisciplinary quality of the issues and working with the scientific community. Few areas hold as much promise as stem cell research, but it also raises unique and profound ethical and legal dilemmas. From the perspective of science policy research, it is the perfect area to work in! 

    How do you spend your free time?

    Do people have free time? When this rare commodity does appear in my life, it is filled with cycling (preferably sprinting on a velodrome), movies, books, music and family.

    What is one thing your peers would be surprised to learn about you?

    I have a severe problem with motion sickness, which is not a great trait for someone who travels. In fact, my fear of getting sick is one of the reasons I abandoned my (sad) attempt at a career as a rock musician. I couldn’t handle the long drives between gigs so I stayed in university! Thank you, nausea.

    Feel free to share more on the abandoned rock career.

    I had a reasonable "career" in music (and have the bad ears to prove it). One of my bands opened for The Ramones. The New Wave band I was in during the ‘80s had a "record" (yep, real vinyl) release on Much Music (Canada's MTV) and a terrifyingly cheesy video. I always joke that if I had a bit more success I'd be working in a record shop now. Someone (no idea who) recently posted version a one of our New Wave singles, Love and Work (lame ref to Freud), on YouTube. Cringe. You must picture me in skintight leather and Flock of Seagulls hair.

    What do you like most about living and working where you do?

    The University of Alberta has been extremely supportive of our research. It has a rich and dynamic research environment. And Edmonton is an ideal place to raise a family. True, the winters can be extreme. But a few days of blinding snow and minus 40 Celsius keeps the mind sharp! Plus, believe it or not, Edmonton has the world’s best coffee shops.

    What do you gain from your membership with the ISSCR?

    The ISSCR has been tremendously important to my career and research. It has allowed me to work with – and build collaborations with – scientists from throughout the world. These linkages are invaluable to interdisciplinary research. It has also allowed me to be involved in international policy debates.
  • Member Spotlight on Jose Polo, PhD

    Buenos Aires, Argentina

    Current Residence:
    Melbourne, Australia

    Graduate Degree:
    Biochemistry from University of Buenos Aires, Argentina; PhD from Albert Einstein College of Medicine, NY, USA. 

    Postdoc Work:
    Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard University

    Current Positions:
    Associate Professor at the Department of Anatomy and Developmental Biology and the Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute, Monash University.

    Chief Investigator at Stem Cells Australia

    What is the current focus of your research?

    I trained in classic biochemistry (proteins, enzimology, more proteins). Then, during my PhD, I became familiar with transcription factor biology, epigenetics and a fairamount of bioinformatics, all these in the context of lymphomagenesis and B-cellmaturation. During my postdoc I was trained in stem cell biology and reprogramming.Thus, I feel equally comfortable in the haematology and stem cell fields. Experimentally, I guess that my areas of expertise are biochemistry, epigentics and genome wide data analysis. Currently my lab is working in different aspects of the reprogramming process, adult stem cells and blood malignancies. However, even though these may sound like different things, indeed in all the cases, we study the same underlying question: What molecularly defines the identity of a cell and how we can control this? 

    What led you to become a scientist and to stem cell research?

    Since I can remember I always liked natural science. As a kid I was looking for bugs, playing with the “chemistry boxes” etc. But I guess the event that shaped my interest in “biology” was getting my grandfather’s microscope when I was about 12 years old. I used to put everything under that microscope, including blood I used to get from endlessly pricking my mother’s finger. As an undergraduate, I studied biochemistry, which in Argentina encompassed basic chemical biology and clinical analysis. I always knew I was going to do a PhD after that.

    How did I get into stem cells? Actually, when I was looking for a postdoc, I wanted to study the biochemistry behind cell fate. At that time I was thinking in differentiation, malignant transformation or reprogramming. I was in Boston doing some interviews (not in stem cells) and I had dinner with my friend Matthias Stadfeldt, who had been my classmate at Albert Einstein. Matthias was doing his postdoc with Konrad Hochedlinger and told me how exciting it was working in Konrad’s lab and that I should at least meet him. So I met him and now here I am.

    How do you spend your free time?

    What is that? Actually I enjoy being with my family, my wife Tania and my two beautiful twins: Catalina and Felipe. At the moment we are renovating our house, which keeps us very busy.

    What is one thing your peers would be surprised to learn about you?

    Before starting university I was between philosophy and biochemistry, but finally chose biochemistry. However in my second year, I dropped biochemistry to study philosophy, but a trip to Japan and the U.S. a couple of months later made me realise that indeed my heart was still in biochemistry. So who knows, maybe one day... 

    What do you like most about living and working in Australia?

    We live in a beautiful spot of Melbourne called the Mornington Peninsula where we enjoy going around the beach and beautiful hills (full of wineries, parks, animals, etc.) about 5 minutes from my house. We also love the fact that my wife’s family is nearby. 

    Working in Australia has been great; I really like the sense of community and collaboration across different groups from the same or different institutes. The stem cell community in Australia has received me with open arms and very rapidly made me feel part of them. Finally, working at Monash University has been a great experience with outstanding support, excellent lab members, colleagues and mentors.

    Actually, if someone one wants to see how the stem cell field in Australia is, we are having our annual meeting in November, just a few days after the ISSCR Regional Forum in Singapore. So why not to travel to both meetings?

    What do you gain from your ISSCR membership?

    First of all I think having a forum that can group researchers from the same field is important. 

    In the particular case of ISSCR, I really like the fact that the board of directors, president etc, are the leaders in our field, which I believe gives the society a strong voice when necessary. On this note, I believe this is a critical time in our field due to the translational potential of our research. Therefore, this moment in time and the time to come is going to be very important for our field on how we communicate the science and manage the expectation of the community, so having such a professional and highly regarded society will be important. From a personal and practical point of view, it is very useful for me to be able to see oral presentations of past conferences as well as special seminars on the web [on ISSCR Connect].

    Congratulations on receiving one of the inaugural Metcalf Prizes from the National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia. What does the recognition mean to you?

    Thanks, receiving the award was very special for me and I guess that it means different things. In principle it means the leaders in the Australian stem cell community believe in me, value what I have done so far, and value my contribution to Australian science in general.

  • Member Spotlight on Jiaqian Wu, PhD

    Beijing, China

    Current Residence:
    Houston, Texas

    Graduate Degree:
    Baylor College of Medicine 

    Postdoc Work:
    Yale University, Stanford University

    Current Positions:
    Principle Investigator/Assistant Professor, 
    The Vivian L. Smith Department of Neurosurgery 
    Center for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine
    The University of Texas Medical School at Houston

    What is the current focus of your research?

    My laboratory combines stem cell biology and systems-based approaches involving molecular biology, genetics, genomics, proteomics and bioinformatics to unravel gene transcription and regulatory mechanisms governing stem cell differentiation. One major focus of our group is investigating stem cell neural differentiation and developing effective and safe treatment for spinal cord injury and neurological diseases. We are studying gene expression and the regulation of transcription factors and regulatory RNAs using next-generation sequencing technologies including RNA-Seq and ChIP-Seq. These studies are crucial in understanding the molecular mechanism of stem cell neural differentiation and its clinical implications. Our goal is to identify and modulate key regulators as therapeutic targets to direct the differentiation of stem cells into neural cells types of our interest more efficiently, and to increase transplantation safety. The other area of our research interest lies in the studies of the regulatory networks of hematopoietic precursor cell self-renewal and differentiation. We are using integrated genomic and proteomic approaches to identify key components that control the switch. This study can provide insight for efficient expanding and manipulating hematopoietic precursor and stem cells. 

    What led you to become a scientist and to stem cell research?

    My mother is a physicist and my father is a biologist. When I was a child, they often told me stories about great scientists, so I thought this is want I want to be when I grow up. I never regret it for a moment! When I was a postdoc in the laboratory of Michael Snyder, I had an opportunity to take stem cell training courses at WiCell and worked with renowned stem cell scientists such as Haifan Lin. I realized how powerful it would be if stem cell biology is combined with genomics. We urgently need the interdisciplinary approaches in the field of stem cell in order to generate a comprehensive picture of stem cell biology and better steer the direction of differentiation, as well as develop more effective and safer treatments.  

    How do you spend your free time?

    In addition to music, culture and art, I enjoy the great outdoors and nature. When I was a postdoc at Yale, I skied regularly. When I was at Stanford, I enjoyed hiking in the Bay Area. Recently I have picked up surfing. We are only an hour away to the Gulf of Mexico.

    What is one thing your peers would be surprised to learn about you?

    When I was a postdoctoral fellow at Yale, I volunteered at a local animal shelter. I used to clean the cages every Friday evening. My work was busy, so I didn’t have any pets at the time. It was fun to play with the animals while I was cleaning. 

    What do you like most about living and working in Houston?

    Houston is a very international city and we have the largest medical center in the world -- the Texas Medical Center (TMC). There are 21 hospitals, eight academic and research institutions, six nursing programs, three public health organizations, three medical schools, two universities, two pharmacy schools, and a dental school in TMC. People are very collaborative at the University of Texas and we have excellent intellectual environment to carry out creative research.

    What do you gain from your membership with the ISSCR?

    I have been a member of the ISSCR for almost ten years. I won a travel award when I was a postdoc so I could travel to the annual meeting in Barcelona and give an oral presentation about my work. ISSCR administrators and staff members are really helpful. I appreciate the wonderful career development opportunities such as luncheons for Junior Investigators or Early Career Group Leaders to meet the leaders in the field and the ISSCR Board of Directors. Also ISSCR Connect and the newsletters provide the latest development in the stem cell field. I enjoy going to the annual meeting to present our work and to meet my colleagues and old friends in the field.

  • Member Spotlight on Eran Meshorer, PhD

    Rehovot, Israel

    Current Residence:
    Neve Ilan (outside of Jerusalem), Israel

    Graduate Degree:
    The Hebrew University of Jerusalem 

    Postdoc Work:
    National Cancer Institute

    Current Positions:
    Principal Investigator/Associate Professor
    Department of Genetics,
    The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

    What is the current focus of your research?

    My lab is studying chromatin and epigenetic regulation in pluripotent stem cells, stem cell differentiation and somatic cell reprogramming. We are combining single cell live imaging studies, allowing us to follow chromatin changes as they occur in living cells, with high-throughput genomic technologies and computation analyses, to depict a system-level understanding of the mechanisms that operate to control pluripotency and unravel the chromatin-related regulation of the stem cell state. In addition, we are using pluripotent cells to model polyglutamine (PolyQ) tract diseases and study chromatin-related defects in the hopes of developing better treatments.

    What led you to become a scientist and to stem cell research?

    I took biology because I felt it was the most interesting subject to study, but my real passion to science came only during graduate studies several years later, when I did my PhD at the laboratory of Hermona Soreq at the Hebrew University. After I completed my PhD in molecular neuroscience, I was very much attracted to the chromatin field, epigenetic regulation and stem cells. So I decided to switch gears and try and combine chromatin and stem cells in my post-doctoral studies. I really chose stem cells as a model to study chromatin, because I was looking for a system where I could find very conspicuous differences in chromatin between differentiated and undifferentiated cells. I thus joined the lab of Tom Misteli at NIH.

    How do you spend your free time?

    I enjoy mountain biking, cooking (risotto, paella and other rice dishes, fish and I make a good Israeli salad), playing guitar and basketball. I have three children – two sons and a daughter – who keep me very busy.

    What is one thing your peers would be surprised to learn about you?

    I grew up in a household that included both science and art, and I became involved in the music industry when I was young. After I finished my PhD, I accepted a position as the producer of the Jerusalem Music Centre and organized many workshops and courses with members of the Emerson String Quartet, Juilliard String Quartet and prominent musicians, including violinist Isaac Stern’s final chamber music course in Jerusalem, just months before he died. I considered making a career of music, but I missed science and returned to it after a year.

    What do you like most about living and working in Jerusalem?

    We have the best students in the country. They are our biggest asset and I enjoy teaching them, learning from them and working with them. When I entered the field, it was still emerging, and it is rewarding to try to get the next generation of students excited about the work we are doing. Also, I have great colleagues that make life enjoyable.  

    What do you gain from your membership with ISSCR?

    I enjoy reading the latest news and being part of this important network. I also enjoy contributing to the ISSCR annual meetings. I was sad to miss the recent meeting in Vancouver, but several of my students presented posters.
  • Membership Spotlight on Jiwen Zhang, PhD

    Hometown: Tongliao, China

    Current Residence: Philadelphia, PA USA

    Graduate Degree: Rutgers University and University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey

    Current Position: Regulatory Affairs Director at GE Healthcare

    Please tell us about your areas of expertise and current position.

    I am currently a regulatory affairs director at GE Healthcare, working on strategic initiatives in cell technology and biotechnology. My expertise is in regulatory strategy development and execution. One focus area of my work is to develop stem cell technology as a drug development tool. I also work in the areas of cell therapy/regenerative medicine (RM). As the RM field is rapidly evolving, the goal of my strategic initiatives is to work with regulators and other stakeholders to influence and shape the regulatory landscape. 

    What led you to your current industry position?

    I received my PhD in neuroscience and, while doing postdoc work in the immunology department at Schering-Plough (now Merck), I realized I was more interested in the whole drug development process versus just the research. I consulted with several colleagues and my department head and was steered toward regulatory affairs. I have loved my job ever since. Many universities offer a master’s degree in regulatory affairs now, so more young people are finding their way down this career path.

    While I enjoy the breath of areas that regulatory work touches on, I like the biotech and cell tech areas the most because of the cutting edge science and technology and the promise they offer to patients in need.

    How do you spend your free time? 

    I enjoy reading, hiking and playing tennis, if I can find the time and a partner. 

    Most of all, I love spending time with my kids – ages 14 and 7. So much time and thought goes into raising children. My oldest is interested in science, and has even said he wishes to be a neurosurgeon. I tell him that, more than anything, he needs to be persistent.

    What is one thing your peers would be surprised to learn about you?

    I grew up in Tongliao in Inner Mongolia, which is part of mainland China, not the Mongolia country, and I came here for graduate school. I visit periodically, and have been there once with each of my children. My parents travel to the U.S. every year to see us. 

    What do you like most about living and working in the Philadelphia area?

    I like that Philadelphia is a major hub of the pharma and biotech industries, and that its proximity to New York and DC allows me to easily visit those cities. I think about retiring to New York City someday.  

    What do you gain from your membership with ISSCR?

    Even though I work in regulatory affairs, I consider myself a scientist at heart. The ISSCR offers me direct access to what is happening in the stem cell research and technology worlds. Hearing firsthand about the new discoveries and progress made in the field makes me work harder at my job to help deliver the most innovative treatments to patients.

    Are you planning to attend the ISSCR Annual Meeting in Vancouver in a few weeks? 

    Yes, and I look forward to everything. Unlike a research scientist in this field, working in regulatory affairs limits my exposure to scientific discoveries and technology advancement. Attending the ISSCR Annual Meeting gives me the opportunity to indulge myself in the research atmosphere and gets me excited and ready to tackle the world. 

  • Member Spotlight on Fernando Pitossi, PhD

     Hometown: Buenos Aires, Argentina
     Currently Resides: Buenos Aires, Argentina
     Graduate Degree: University of Buenos Aires, Argentina
    PhD, University at Freiburg, Germany
     Postdoc: University of Marburg, Germany
     Current: Laboratory Head, Leloir Institute, Buenos Aires
    Scientific Coordinator of CICEMA (Argentine stem cell research consortium)
    Director of PLACEMA (human iPS platform)

    What is the current focus of your research and how did you get where you are?

    My areas of expertise are (1), cell reprogramming and differentiation to study Parkinson’s disease and develop cell therapies for this illness, and (2), neuroinflammation to develop protective therapies for Parkinson’s disease.

    I received my biochemistry degree in Buenos Aires and then went on to a PhD in molecular virology in Europe. As a postdoc, I applied my acquired knowledge in projects involving neuroimmunology and gene therapy of Parkinson’s disease, and it soon became clear that gene-modified cells were the best option for future treatments. Since 2011, I have been enthusiastically collaborating with Xianmin Zeng at the Buck Institute on therapeutic options.

    There is a good deal of public and patient interest in stem cell treatments for Parkinson’s disease. How do you communicate your excitement about your progress with the current limitations?

    It is an exciting time for scientists in my line of research, but our work is still pre-clinical. We are currently testing potential applications in five different animal models, but just in animal models – I’m always very clear about that. I have learned to balance patients’ need for hope and the reality of the current research in my communication to and with the public.

    How do you spend your free time?

    I enjoy soccer, playing with my 10-year-old daughter, Buddhist meditation and cooking Argentinian barbecue, which I pair with excellent Malbec wines. I was asked, a number of years ago, during an interview for my PhD program, if I liked to cook. The scientist questioning me believed that good cooks make good scientists; that curiosity and skill related to recipes is not so different from one to the other.

    What is one thing your peers would be surprised to learn about you?

    I am happily living with my ex-wife. She and I divorced many years ago, but later reconnected. We have one daughter from our first relationship and one from our second, and our situation works for our family.

    Is living in Buenos Aires as glamorous as it sounds?

    You certainly have no time to be bored. If you like dining out, an intense cultural environment, friendly relationships and great weather, this is the place to live.

    I spent many years in Europe but would have returned to Argentina earlier if there had been scholarships or grant opportunities available. Since the formation of the Ministry of Science, however, the government perception of science has changed, and there is more funding and better opportunities for collaboration. It used to be that there were twice as many Argentinian scientists abroad as there were practicing at home, but that is changing, and I’m happy to be contributing to the change.

    What do you gain from your membership with ISSCR?

    I have gained an international perspective on stem cell research and the opportunity to network with leaders in the field. Additionally, I’ve come to understand how a scientific society works and the tremendous impact it can have on research. I am currently on the ISSCR Clinical Translation Task Force and, in 2009, I coordinated an ISSCR meeting with the Ministry of Science in my country, which was an overwhelming success – our president opened the meeting.
  • Member Spotlight on Tenneille Ludwig, PhD

     Hometown: Madison, WI, USA
     Currently Resides: Madison, WI, USA
     Graduate Degree: MS from Washington State University; PhD from the University of Wisconsin
     Postdoc: Laboratory of Dr. James Thomson, University of Wisconsin
     Current: Director of the WiCell Stem Cell Bank

    What are your areas of expertise?

    My expertise is in the area of pluripotent stem cell culture optimization with an emphasis on media development (mTeSR1, TeSR2) and in biobanking, specifically the banking, characterization, and global distribution of high quality PSC materials. I actively participate as part of the International Cell Banking Forum, and work with other leaders in the area in developing and refining consensus standards and practices for the banking and distribution of both research and clinical grade stem cells. I minored in bioethics as part of my PhD program, and that background keeps me very interested in ethics and policy, and their relation to the field.

    What led you down your current career path?

    I have an MS in Reproductive Endocrinology and PhD in Embryology/Developmental Biology focusing on the impact of culture conditions (including medium formulation) on in vitro embryo physiology and developmental competence. Initially, I thought I would graduate and direct an IVF clinic, but during my time as a PhD student, Dr. James Thomson published his seminal work on the derivation of human ES cells. I became enamored with stem cell research and its long term possibility to dramatically impact the future of human health.  Upon graduation I accepted a post-doc position with him, aimed at refining culture systems for ES cells.

    What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

    In the summer, my gardens consume a good deal of my free time – I have a vegetable garden, several large shade gardens and a native woodland perennial garden – and they keep me sane. Camping and canoeing are also favorites. In the winter, I do a lot of cooking.

    What is one thing that your peers would be surprised to learn about you?

    I paid for my first two years of college with my goat show winnings; most people are surprised to learn that you can show goats professionally. Also, I have a huge Mardi Gras party at my house every year with homemade jambalaya and fried catfish. One year, the UK Stem Cell Bank planned an overlapping conference, and I hauled beads and masks to London with me and passed them out to attendees.

    What is your favorite thing about living in Madison?

    While this town has all you need in terms of amenities, I love how quickly you can get away from it all, and go hiking, camping and canoeing. I drive past corn fields and family farms to get home, yet I live 6 miles from downtown Madison and less than 15 minutes from work.

    What do you gain from your membership with the ISSCR?

    If you work in stem cell research, the ISSCR Annual Meeting is a must. It attracts thought leaders from around the world and provides an environment where not only formal presentations, but private conversations, can happen easily. Where else can you touch base with colleagues, collaborators, and clients – and, more importantly, future colleagues, collaborators, and clients – from around the world with so little effort and expense? I get at least as much good information over a beer and a nosh at the poster session as I do pouring over journals all year long. Attendees get the untold story straight from the scientists that did the work, and occasionally the unpublishable negative data prevents you from wasting time and dollars in your own lab repeating futile work. I will absolutely be in Vancouver this year.
  • Member Spotlight on Sebastian Jessberger, MD

     Hometown: Heidelberg, Germany
     Currently Resides: Zurich, Switzerland
     Graduate Degree: University of Hamburg, Germany
     Postdoc: Gage Lab, Salk Institute, United States
     Current: Associate Professor, Brain Research Institute, University of Zurich, Switzerland

    What is your area of expertise and the current focus of your research?

    My research is focused on neural stem cells (NSCs) and the process by which they generate new neurons throughout life in distinct areas of the mammalian brain, called adult neurogenesis. This process is associated with physiologic brain function, but has also been implicated in a number of diseases, such as epilepsy and major depression. Our research aims to understand the cellular and molecular mechanisms regulating neural stem cell activity and to characterize the functional role of adult neurogenesis on a behavioral level.

    Additionally, our laboratory aims to understand how physiologic and disease-associated alterations (e.g., in rodent models of depression and anxiety) of the neurogenic niche are translated into stem cell-associated plastic changes of the adult brain and how we can utilize adult NSCs for endogenous brain repair in demyelinating diseases such as multiple sclerosis. To reach these aims, we use virus- and transgenesis-based approaches as well as cellular models of human diseases using pluripotent embryonic stem cells.

    What led you down the path to becoming a stem cell scientist?

    My original plan was to become a clinician, but after studying medicine, I decided to become a postdoc to get more experience in research. I was extremely fortunate to have been accepted into Rusty Gage’s laboratory at Salk. He was, and still is, an important teacher and mentor, and because of him and the excitement in his lab, I chose to remain in science.

    And now you are in a position to mentor others…

    Yes, most of my time now is spent directing the research of others, and I am very close to the PhD and postdoc students in my lab. When I started this position, I was very nervous about my role in shaping their futures. Now, I’m more relaxed, as I see them going on to good careers. Their success is one of my personal measures of success.

    What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

    Most of my free time is spent with family and friends. Living in Zurich feels like living in a village, but we are still able to enjoy the cultural life and other conveniences of a big city. We often go to the mountains for skiing and hiking (though, I wish I could combine this with SoCal surfing).

    What is one thing your peers would be surprised to learn about you?

    How little I work (but maybe they shouldn’t know that). I am fortunate to have flexibility now, which has not always been the case. It makes it easier to balance work and family; my children are nine and six. I try to be understanding of my students with children, because I know what it is like to be a postdoc.

    What do you gain from your membership with ISSCR?

    I benefit a lot from the science in the journals published by, or in cooperation with, ISSCR. These offer a great platform for presenting our research, as does ISSCR Connect, on which I was recently invited to deliver a web-based lecture.

    Are you planning to attend the ISSCR Annual Meeting in Vancouver?

    Yes, I plan to attend. In the past, the ISSCR meeting has turned out to be a great opportunity to informally share ideas and concepts with others in the field. This year, I will use the opportunity to discuss with colleagues novel concepts my lab is trying to formulate based on findings that suggest how cellular age is segregated in the context of somatic stem cell division.
  • Member Spotlight on Sabine Middendorp, PhD

    Hometown: Amsterdam, the Netherlands
    Currently Resides: Utrecht, the Netherlands
    Graduate Degree: Erasmus MC Rotterdam
    Postdoc, (current): Assistant Professor at Wilhelmina Children’s Hospital (WKZ); University Medical Center Utrecht (Edward Nieuwenhuis lab)

    What is your area of expertise and the current focus of your research?

    In my research, we collect biopsies from patients with intestinal disease, such as rare congenital diseases, inflammatory bowel disease and celiac disease. We then generate organoids (stem cell-based cultures) from these patients in the lab, which provide unique in vitro model systems to study the pathophysiology of these diseases.

    I am also involved in a translational project, Regenerating Intestinal Tissue with Stem Cells (RITS), from Hans Clevers (Hubrecht Institute) and Edward Nieuwenhuis (WKZ, UMCU), to translate organoids from bench-to-bedside as an alternative for intestinal transplantation in children with congenital intestinal disorders. For this project, we have recently determined that the location-specific properties of small intestinal epithelial cells are intrinsically programmed within the stem cells, suggesting that we would need to grow organoids from different parts of the small intestine to rescue most functional properties.

    What is your greatest pleasure in life?

    Spending time with my husband and two sons (ages four and one and a half). It is a challenge to balance family and research, but I love my job. I try to leave my work behind when I’m home and on holiday.

    What is one thing that your peers or colleagues would be surprised to learn about you?

    I have a large Miffy collection – puzzles, books, collector’s items, my sandwich box – started when I was 16. Miffy, called “Nijntje” in Dutch, is the creation of Dick Bruna, a well-known artist in the Netherlands, who resides in Utrecht. I admire his work and am always amazed by his way of drawing complex things with very simple lines. He strives to make things as simple as possible, a philosophy that also inspires me.

    What is your favorite thing about living in Utrecht?

    It is a cozy town, only 320,000 people and many students, with World Heritage canals running through it. I bike to work most days year-round.

    Congratulations on winning a free registration to the ISSCR 12th Annual Meeting in Vancouver, for completing our member survey. Are you a lucky person? Do you win a lot of things?

    Yes, I am indeed a lucky person. I regularly win things – a vacuum cleaner, tickets for musicals, movies and amusement parks, hotel vouchers, a beanbag and now the free meeting registration. I plan to register before February 28, so I have a chance to win the Vancouver seaplane tour, as well!

    What are you most looking forward to when visiting Vancouver?

    I was in Vancouver for a conference last year, and enjoyed lunch on the promenade, the boat houses and Stanley Park. I’m planning to rent a bicycle this year, so that I can see more of the city. Most of all, however, I am excited about the meeting program and am looking forward to meeting people within our field.
  • Member Spotlight on Yukiko Yamashita, PhD

    Hometown: Kobe, Japan
    Currently Resides: Ann Arbor, MI
    Graduate Degree: Kyoto University
    Postdoc Work: Stanford School of Medicine
    Current Position: Associate Professor, Department of Cell & Developmental Biology
    University of Michigan Medical School

    What is your area of expertise and the current focus of your research? 

    My focus is asymmetric stem cell division. In graduate school, I became interested in how cells generate exact copies of themselves, and then further in the idea of asymmetric cell division, whereby a tweak causes a cell to produce two daughter cells that are a bit different from one another (but, of course, not deleteriously asymmetric, as is the case with aneuploidy). My interest is actually in asymmetry, not stem cells per se, but stem cells happen to be a population that often depends on asymmetric division.

    Have you always been interested in science?

    I have always wanted to solve problems, and I believe I wanted to be a scientist very early on, even before I understood the profession and realized science could be a job. 

    What do you like most about living in the United States?

    The US culture encourages creativity and risk taking, which is so important in research. As a scientist, I am able to be myself and explore nature based solely on my own logic and curiosity and without the fear of failure. 

    What is your greatest pleasure in life?

    I love watching and helping people grow, both as a mentor and as a parent. I have a 9-year-old daughter, and she keeps me from being carried away by my career. I have found parenting keeps you grounded and forces you to prioritize what is important. For me, it means time away from my job, and these forced breaks allow me to look at my science with refreshed eyes. I am more organized and more productive because I am a mom.

    What is one thing that your peers or colleagues would be surprised to learn about you?

    I did not get my U.S. driver’s license until I moved to Michigan, and even then, I put it off as long as possible. I never drove much in Japan, where the public transportation is wonderful, and I was able to get around without a car during my time in California. I was proud of myself when I finally made the commitment and took the test!

    What do you gain from your membership with ISSCR?

    For me, joining ISSCR is automatic. It means being part of a community. Even though ISSCR is big and spans a lot of different areas, I still feel a sense of belonging and a connection to other members through our shared work and purpose.