What is the current focus of your research, and what do you find most rewarding about your work? Our lab uses induced cell fate change (i.e., reprogramming, transdifferentiation, differentiation) to learn about important regulatory systems. Right now we are particularly interested in a key form of post-transcriptional regulation called alternative polyadenylation. We also recently developed mouse models that permit modulation of specific histone modifications. We are using these tools to understand how regulatory mechanisms influence cell fate decisions. The most satisfying part of my research is working at the cutting edge. There is always something new and creative in this field to learn about.
What led you to become a scientist and to stem cell research? In elementary school I actually took part in a job survey that predicted my future profession as a "biotechnologist." I'd like to think that the survey reflected my passion for science, even at that young age. I love understanding how things work. With regard to stem cell research, I find it remarkable that we all start as a single cell. From that single cell, a massive diversity of cell types are created without changing genomic content. Understanding the regulatory mechanisms that interpret our DNA in different ways is fascinating to me.
What is the most exciting aspect of your work? I'd like to think our lab excels at combining innovative techniques and applying them in creative ways. I hope that this work has led to some exciting and impactful discoveries.
What guidance would you share in talking with trainees interested in pursuing your area of research? Don't lose sight of the fact that what we do is cool. That concept will sustain you longer than any other reward. Science can be frustrating and outright unfair but if you can step back and appreciate how amazing biology truly is, you'll never be at a loss for motivation.
Do you have any mentors or individuals who have inspired you in your stem cell work? I was so fortunate to have excellent mentors throughout my career. Sarah Ades, Carsten Schultz, and Andreas Schleifenbaum taught me the basics as an undergraduate and prepared me for the rigors of grad school. Jamie Thomson and Josh Coon guided me through my graduate work, taught me to write, and showed me how to think in a different way. Konrad Hochedlinger expanded on those areas and gave me the tools to function as an independent scientist during my postdoc. I was also inspired by the late Harry Kroto, who loved science and had the courage to use his influence to publicly tackle issues like climate change.
How do you spend your free time? Most of my free time is spent with my family, although I am an avid fly fisherman.
What is something your peers would be surprised to learn about you? I'm also a very active ultimate frisbee player. I had academic eligibility left in graduate school and actually played on a University of Wisconsin team.
What do you most value about your membership with the ISSCR? There are two aspects of ISSCR that I find exceptional. First, it provides an opportunity for scientists to network and share ideas. I experienced this at all points in my career. Second, and somewhat resulting from the first point, ISSCR provides a platform to drive stem cell research forward. Collaborations are formed at meetings and expertise is disseminated through workshops. ISSCR provides those opportunities to enhance the science.