Tietze Young Scientist Awards for Two ISCRM Faculty Members

Two ISCRM faculty members, Dr. Smita Yadav, Assistant Professor, Pharmacology and Dr. Ronald Kwon, Associate Professor, Orthopedics and Sports Medicine, have received prestigious awards from the John H. Tietze Foundation Trust that will help fuel promising research underway in their labs.

Using Stem Cells to Study the Causes of Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a pervasive neurodevelopmental disorder that currently affects 1 in 59 children in the United States. ASD is both clinically complex and genetically heterogeneous, manifesting in a wide range of symptoms, including social impairment, communication deficits, and repetitive behaviors.  Adding to the difficulty of studying the disorder is the lack of diseased human neuronal tissue available to researchers hoping to understand the molecular basis of ASD and, eventually, identify therapeutic targets.

The Jaconette L. Tietze Young Scientist Award will allow Dr. Smita Yadav and her lab to use human stem cells to model brain growth changes in patients with autism. By differentiating induced pluripotent, patient-derived stem cells (iPSC) into neural progenitor cells and neurons, Dr. Yadav and her team will be able to create 3D brain organoids, sophisticated tools that will help them uncover cellular and signaling abnormalities that contribute to the neuropathology of autism.

Ultimately, Dr. Yadav plans to use genome-editing techniques to identify the genetic nature of the defects in early brain development present in the iPSC tissue and to test the feasibility of repairing abnormal growth.

“I’d like to thank the Tietze family for this incredible award,” says Dr. Yadav. “Their support of our work – and of so many other young researchers – is inspiring and it will allow us to answer critical questions about a disorder impacting millions of families worldwide.”

Searching for an Elusive Molecule with a Key Role in Regeneration

Scientists have long asked why regenerative potential differs so widely across species. Why, for example, can salamanders and zebrafish regrow bony appendages – entire fins and limbs – while humans and most other animals cannot? Adding to the existing knowledge base about the cellular machinery at work in regeneration could reveal new clues about how to stimulate wound healing after injury, slow bone loss in conditions like osteoporosis, or drive the proliferation of stem cells.

The John H. Tietze Stem Cell Scientist Award will help the lab of Dr. Ronald Kwon investigate how one family of proteins, known as Wnts, regulates regeneration in zebrafish. Previous work at ISCRM by Dr. Randy Moon showed that Wnt signaling acts as an on/off switch for regeneration. Yet, the specific Wnt molecule responsible for activating this pathway remains elusive. Dr. Kwon and his team are determined to identify this molecule they believe is universally necessary for appendage regeneration.

“This award a huge honor,” says Dr. Kwon. “It’s exciting to be on a list with scientists I’ve looked up to my whole career. I’m extremely grateful for this opportunity to help our lab grow and it’s especially thrilling that it comes directly from someone in the community so committed to the science happening here at ISCRM.”