Meet the 2023 ISCRM Fellows

The ISCRM Fellows program began in 2017, the year the Washington State Legislature first included funding for ISCRM in the state budget. In a critical show of support for stem cell research, the legislature appropriated $2.25 million for core staff and technologies, innovation pilot awards for faculty, and a trainee fellowship program to help the UW fulfill its mission, increase capacity for labs, and provide foundational research experiences for graduate, undergraduate, and postdoctoral students embarking on science careers. In 2019, the annual funding was increased to $2,625,000.

The 2023 ISCRM Fellows were selected from a deep pool of undergraduate students, PhD students, and postdocs making critical contributions to medical research. Please join us in congratulating the following recipients.

Postdoctoral Fellows

Damien Detraux, PhD (Mathieu/Rouhola-Baker)
In collaboration with the Institute for Protein Design (IPD – UW), postdoctoral fellow Damien Detraux will use synthetic AI-designed proteins to robustly and specifically target signaling pathways though RTKs-modulating mini-binders and control the direct conversion of fibroblasts across different lineages. Specific aims of the project include investigating the role of signaling pathways in cell fate conversion and bifurcations and the role of TrkA signaling in neuron conversion. 

Christian Mandrycky, PhD (Mack/Regnier)
As a postdoctoral fellow, Christian Mandrycky will test a hypothesis that MYH3 mutations (implicated in the skeletal muscle disorder Distal arthrogryposis) alter both the mechanics of the contractile apparatus as well as the maturation of skeletal muscle. In his project Mandrycky aims to determine the effect of mutation on the contractile function of normal and mutant skeletal muscle and to investigate the effect of MYH3 mutations on the transcriptome of both hiPSC-derived skeletal myoblasts and skeletal muscle. Together these results will provide a more complete view of the effect of MYH3 mutations on contractile function and their cascading effect on skeletal muscle development and maturation.

Giulia Spennati, PhD (Freedman and Fu Labs)
With an ISCRM fellowship, Giulia Spennati, a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Freedman and Fu Lab, aims to identify the molecular and mechanical mechanism leading to podocyte injury in kidney organoids exposed to hyperglycemic conditions. The long-term goal is to develop a human kidney organoid model of diabetic kidney disease (DKD) to assess the risk of progression and test treatment responses.

Graduate Student Fellows

Erik Black (Rasmussen)
Using zebrafish as an in vivo model, ISCRM Fellow Erik Black will advance research efforts underway to better understand the mechanisms underlying the transition from stem cells to specialized cells by studying the development of mechanosensory Merkel cells in the skin. In his project, Black will focus on molecular and morphological characterization of the transition from stem cell to Merkel cell and will further analyze how the peripheral neurons in the skin influence this process and other stem cell processes. Findings from this research will provide insights into skin homeostasis, development, and related diseases, while also shedding light on the role of the microenvironment on stem cell dynamics and cell differentiation.

Sophie Blackburn (Freedman)
In her fellowship project, Sophie Blackburn will generate glomerulus-like structures in vitro by recapitulating physiological growth confinement of kidney organoids during differentiation and induce vasculogenesis of endothelial cells across microfluidic chips containing kidney organoids to create a perfusable vascular network. The longer-term goal is to provide an unparalleled tool for predicting renal toxicity and efficacy of new drugs, with possible future directions including urine production and organoids as a renal replacement therapy.

Elisa Clark (Kueh)
As an ISCRM Fellow, Elisa Clark will undertake a project aimed at improving efficacy of engineered T cell therapies against solid tumors using cytokine pre-treatment.  Clark will test how cytokines impact two critical but opposing aspects of T cell differentiation: stemness and effector function, and how cytokines can be combined to maximize both desired T cell properties. This work will utilize both ex vivo high throughput screening methods in collaboration with UW Genome Sciences, and in vivo mouse tumor models in collaboration with Fred Hutch Cancer Center. If successful, this work will inform cytokine effects on T cell differentiation and also generate cells for antitumor therapy in a manner that could be easily translated into clinical studies.

Jenny Nathans (Shendure)
With support from an ISCRM Fellowship, Jenny Nathans aims to further develop and deploy molecular recording for the precise reconstruction of signaling history in development. She will first establish this system in a well-characterized organotypic epidermal model to study epidermal fate specification in collaboration with the Simpson lab. More broadly, she aims to apply molecular recording to the study of diverse organoids and cell types.

Anjali Patni (Ruohola-Baker)
With a long-term goal of improving dental health outcomes, ISCRM Fellow Anjali Patni will generate functional enamel layer in order to study the congenital tooth disorder amelogenesis imperfecta (AI) and to generate living fillings in the future. In her project, Patni aims to identify the signaling factors crucial for the maturation of induced secretory ameloblasts (isAM) and investigate the underlying mechanisms of Amelogenesis Imperfecta (AI) using an iAM 3D organoid model. As part of her investigation, Patni will utilize previously AI-designed Delta scaffolds to activate the Notch pathway in target cells. By utilizing these innovative scaffolds, Patni will explore whether Notch pathway activation alone is sufficient to induce the maturation of ieAM into isAM. Through these comprehensive efforts, Patni’s research holds potential to advance our understanding of amelogenesis imperfecta and contribute to the development of innovative strategies for dental health improvement.

Undergraduate Fellows

Dania Ahmed (Yang)
Funding will allow Dania Ahmed to test a hypothesis that restoring typical desmin levels in cardiomyopathic cells with the MYH7 E848G mutation – associated with dilated cardiomyopathy – will help recover contractile function. In her project, Ahmed will restore wild type desmin protein levels in hiPSC-CMs expressing the mutation, and assess the  contractile effects of desmin upregulation on cardiomyopathic iPSC-CMs by measuring single cell contractile force.

Arafat Fasuyi (Stevens Lab)
Arafat Fasuyi will test her hypothesis that generating hardware and bioinks for a 3D bioprinting (SLATE) that can achieve higher resolution printing of microvasculature will enable the Stevens Lab to produce more functional artificial liver tissues. In her project, Arafat will aim to improve 3D printed tissue resolution and achieve vessel diameters on the order of venules/arterioles and create functional artificial liver tissues by integrating hepatocyte organoids into biocompatible hydrogel.

Anika Ghelani (Sniadecki)
As an ISCRM Undergraduate Fellow, Anika Ghelani will investigate the biomechanical role of the chaperone protein melusin in humans using engineered heart tissues (EHTs) created from wild-type hiPSC-CMs and hiPSC-CMs that lack melusin and their isogenic controls. By examining and measuring contractile force and observing the structure of these tissues for signs of dilation or thinning of the tissue, Ghelani aims to determine whether the presence of melusin produces a protective response in EHTs.

Flora Hu (Mathieu)
In her fellowship project, Flora Hu will develop a novel 3D in vitro model of the fallopian tube epithelium by combining iPSC and engineering technologies. Her specific aims to recapitulate the polarized structure of FTE through microfluidic design (in partnership with the Zheng Lab) and to differentiate FTE from iPSCs and incorporate them into the designed device.

Jamie Yang (Boyle)
In the Cardiac Systems Simulation Lab, Jamie Yang is evaluating the potential effects of optogenetic stimulation in studying and mitigating engraftment-associated arrhythmias (EAs) using computational modeling. In her project, she will further research the origin of EA development, characterize early EA dynamics, and establish the ideal opsin characteristics for experimental optogenetic suppression of EAs. The long-term goal is to develop a potential solution to engraftment-related arrhythmias that can be explored further in large animals and possibly humans.

Rohda Yase (Kwon)
Building on preliminary data showing that the gene efemp1 is dispensable for the first phase of spine mineralization—Rohda Yase will study the 2nd phase of skeletal development by determining the role of efemp1 in osteoblast recruitment. In her project, Yase will generate efemp1 zebrafish mutants with a transgenic reporter for osteoblasts to determine if osteoblasts are affected. By understanding the role of efemp1 in spine development, Yase aims to elucidate the role of fibulins in skeletal development and their influence on skeletal traits.