Celebrating Hispanic American and Latinx American Heritage Month

September 15th, 2021 marks the beginning of National Hispanic Heritage Month, which honors the generations of Hispanic Americans and Latinx Americans who have positively influenced and enriched our nation and society. Many of these individuals made their historic contributions as scientists, helping to pave the way for Hispanic Americans and Latinx Americans who are enriching the fields of science and medicine today, and advancing our collective understanding of human health. At the Institute for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine, we are taking this opportunity to celebrate members of our own community whose discoveries are unlocking the secrets of life at all levels and improving human health through their collaborative pursuit of urgently needed treatments.

Faculty Spotlight: Thelma Escobar, PhD

Faculty headshot of Thelma Escobar, PhD

Thelma Escobar was born in Guatemala and raised in Southern California. In the spring of 2021, she joined ISCRM as a faculty  member and the Department of Biochemistry as an Assistant Professor. Escobar’s lab combines stem cell biology, immune biology, and biochemistry to study chromatin, the raw material that the body uses to build chromosomes (which carry our DNA), and histones, the proteins that help package chromosomes into the nucleus of a cell. Her goal is to understand how chromatin and histones preserve cellular memory beyond the instructions already encoded in DNA. You can read more about Thelma Escobar here.

In September 2021, Escobar was a guest on the Phosphorus podcast, produced by Department of Biochemistry and hosted by PhD student Grace Hamilton. In her interview, Escobar discussed her early exposure to science, the sense of curiosity and resilience she drew from her parents, the challenges of communicating  research to people without science backgrounds (sometimes in multiple languages), and the enrichment programs that opened doors for her as an aspiring scientist. Listen to the interview here.

Postdoc Spotlight: Francisco Saavedra, PhD

Francisco Saavedra was born and raised in Santiago de Chile. He obtained the degree of “Engineer in Molecular Biotechnology” from Universidad de Chile in 2014 and his Ph.D. from Universidad Andrés Bello in 2018. His research, done in Alejandra Loyola’s Lab at  “Fundación Ciencia & Vida”, also in Chile, was focused on the cytosolic maturation of newly synthesized histones H3 and H4. In 2021, Saavedra joined the UW Biochemistry Department to further explore how the processing and handling of histones can have an impact in cellular identity and differentiation. Currently, he is a postdoc in the Escobar Lab, where he is spearheading a collaboration with the Doulatov Lab to use human iPSCs to model human hematopoietic progenitor cell fates and to better understand how chromatin is involved in this process. After completing his postdoc at ISCRM, Saavedra plans to return to Chile as a professor and continue his research in epigenetics while helping to guide the next generation of scientists.

Rising Stars in Regenerative Medicine

Susana Simmonds Bohorquez
Susana Simmonds Bohorquez moved to Baton Rouge, Louisiana in 2001 from Venezuela with her parents (who were born in rural Venezuela and Colombia) and sister as the first in her family to move to the United States. She first came to the University of Washington in 2019 for an undergraduate research experience in the lab of ISCRM faculty member Kelly Stevens. Today, Simmonds Bohorquez is a second-year graduate student working on 3D imaging and quantification of human liver tissues, an investigation that could lead to innovative 3D bioprinting techniques with the potential to help millions of patients with liver disease and other serious conditions. Read more about Susana Simmonds Bohorquez and the REU program that is giving undergraduate students from the across the country opportunities to explore research careers.

Read more about Susana Simmonds Bohorquez here.

Brizzia Munoz Robles
Brizzia Munoz Robles was five-years-old when she moved to the United States from Mexico with her parents and twin sister Maria. Today, Munoz-Robles is a PhD student in Bioengineering and a graduate student fellow in the DeForest Lab in the Department of Chemical Engineering. Currently, Munoz Robles is working to address a substantial void in the field’s ability to probe and direct changes in biological fate over the full range of physiologically relevant timescales. In the lab, her aim is to develop a generalizable strategy to dynamically customize the biochemical properties of cell-laden biomaterials in 4D. Her career goal is to start her own company with her twin sister in the field of protein engineering and biomaterials and to use these platforms to study the underlying mechanisms in autoimmune diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis and endometriosis.

Dessirée Ortaç
Dessirée Ortaç, who is originally from La Romana in the Dominican Republic, is a junior Biology major at UW Bothell and an undergraduate fellow in the lab of ISCRM faculty Jennifer Davis, PhD. In the Davis Lab, Ortaç is investigating the role of a protein called muscleblind-like protein 1 (MBNL1) in regulating heart development and response to injury and studying how modulating MBNL1 impacts cardiomyocyte growth and proliferation. The broader goal of Ortaç’s research is to aid in finding a way to drive heart regeneration in adults who’ve suffered from a myocardial infarction. Outside the lab, Ortaç is peer coach in UW Bothell’s Coaching Program.


This mission patch designed by Mickey Ruiz accompanied kidney-chip experiments to the International Space Station.

Mickey Ruiz
Mickey Ruiz grew up in the Yakima Valley in Washington State. Her father, who came to the United States from El Salvador, worked in agriculture before becoming a truck driver. Her mother worked as a high school secretary. Despite facing health and financial adversity, Ruiz followed her dream of a STEM career to the University of Washington, where she is now a senior majoring in psychology and biology and a researcher in the Kelly Lab in the Department of Pharmaceutics. Ruiz and her graduate student mentor Kendan Jones-Isaac have played pivotal roles in a multi-year research effort to study the effects of microgravity on kidney function. Kidney-on-a-chip experiments she helped prepare, and a mission patch she designed, were both sent to the International Space Station through a partnership with NASA. Ruiz, who plans to pursue her passion for drug metabolism in graduate school, also mentors students through several UW programs and is the co-founder of FEEDBACK, an initiative that fosters intellectual curiosity in middle school students from low-income communities and aims to increase diversity in STEM fields.

Links to Learn More

Read more about the current ISCRM fellows here.

Learn more about National Hispanic Heritage Month Celebrations in our community here.

Learn about the annual Sea Mar Fiestas Patrias here.

Learn more about Latinx faculty and staff groups at UW here.

Learn more about the UW SACNAS Chapter (Advancing Hispanics/Chicanos & Native Americans in Science) here.