• 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.