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