What is the current focus of your research, and what do you find most rewarding about your work?
My PhD project focuses on using in vitro models to study hearing loss. Damage or loss of sensory hair cells in the cochlea leads to permanent hearing loss and our lab is interested in understanding the selective vulnerability and lack of regenerative capacity in hair cells. I have been using direct cellular reprogramming to generate induced sensory hair cell-like cells in vitro. The induced hair cells resemble primary cochlear hair cells and we believe this model can provide the biological material necessary for high throughput studies of acquired and genetic hearing loss.
The most rewarding part of my work has been the ability to make a cellular model that could eventually help patients suffering from hearing loss or even protect against hearing loss from known environmental and genetic risk factors. Research has always been exciting to me as it is the critical connection between biology and medicine, so it is rewarding to have contributed to findings that could help the field of medicine.
What led you to become a scientist and to stem cell research?
I have always been fascinated by biology and understanding how the human body works. I feel as if I was always a scientist and that my desire for more knowledge led me to the incredible field of stem cell research. As an undergraduate student at UCSC I decided to volunteer in one of the research labs and then there was no turning back. Studying Parkinson’s disease in Drosophila led to a graduate school application and now I am nearing the end of my PhD in stem cell research with excitement that I have been able to contribute my findings to the stem cell and auditory research communities.
What is the most exciting aspect of your work?
I am most excited that my research could eventually have clinical translations. The induced hair cell model I have developed and carefully characterized can help to understand mutations that cause deafness, the underlying mechanisms, and provide a platform to screen for hair cell protectants.
What guidance would you share in talking with trainees interested in pursuing your area of research?
I think trainees should pay special attention to the biological problems they want to study, and they should work hard to find an environment that will allow them to pursue this research. I would tell them that if they are passionate about science to keep moving forward. The research takes time, it can be trying of your patience, but most importantly it is exhilarating and rewarding.
Do you have any mentors or individuals who have inspired you in your stem cell work?
There are so many! My mentor Dr. Saxton at UCSC inspired me to apply to graduate school and piqued my interest in neuroscience and selective vulnerabilities of various cell types. As a PhD student, my mentors Dr. Ichida and Dr. Segil have provided an environment for me to learn about stem cell research and all of its applications. I am forever grateful to have mentors that supported me through this process and allowed me to work independently, share my research at a multitude of local, national and international meetings, and more recently transition towards a mentoring role as various aspects of the project will be handed off to newer lab members.
How do you spend your free time?
I spend most of my free time exploring outside, exercising, or cooking. Being in Los Angeles provides the sunshine needed for hikes and park picnics year-round.
What is something your peers would be surprised to learn about you?
My peers would be surprised to learn that I speak French fluently. I am first generation American and grateful my parents took to time to teach me their native language. I am also a tattoo enthusiast and have a growing collection on my body.
What do you most value about your membership with the ISSCR?
My membership with ISSCR has been life changing to say the least. I am always inspired by the stem cell community, the incredible science at the Annual Meeting, and the ISSCR staff that makes it all happen. I have been attending the meeting for 5 years now and been able to make valuable connections while getting more involved with ISSCR. I have been volunteering at the new attendee orientations, the organized luncheons, and most recently joined the ISSCR Junior Investigators Committee where I will help to organize several aspects of the 2020 Annual Meeting. Looking forward to seeing you all in Boston 2020!