Mary Regier grew up on a wheat farm in Nebraska, where she learned to think like an engineer long before she ever set foot in a lab. Home was a hub of physics and biology in action, a place where something always needed to be designed, fixed, or improved, often from spare parts and pure intuition.
Regier eventually left for the University of Nebraska, in Lincoln, where her farm-tested knack for problem-solving helped her succeed as a biosystems engineer. As an undergraduate, she focused on biomedical research and engineering nanoparticles for delivering non-viral genetic material.
For Regier, it was a turning point. “I think that’s when I started seeing myself making bigger contributions to biology and medicine by applying my skills in engineering as a career.”
One of the first major problems Regier turned to was breast cancer. As a PhD student at the University of Wisconsin, in Madison, she studied the interactions between different cell types that cause the disease to progress (or not) and how cell-to-cell signaling in tumor environments could also be controlled to promote healing.
Regier earned her PhD in biomedical engineering and moved to Seattle, where she continued to hone her single cell sequencing skills in the lab of ISCRM faculty member Kelly Stevens, PhD. With support from a Washington Research Foundation Fellowship, she became adept at barcoding tissues, informatics, and RNA sequencing. The dynamic research environment at ISCRM suited her.
“Some of the most important and exciting research right now is taking place at the intersection of the basic sciences and engineering,” says Regier. “And ISCRM is one of the best places to be working in this area.”
Now Regier has a new role that puts her at the nexus of regenerative medicine and bioengineering. She is the first director of the newly minted ISCRM Genomics Core, a facility located on UW Medicine’s South Lake Union campus and available to all ISCRM faculty members and students in ISCRM-affiliated labs. The core is supported in part through philanthropic support from the John H. Tietze Foundation Trust and from Sarah and Rich Barton.
The purpose of the Genomics Core, according to Regier, is to apply the latest genomics technologies to regenerative medicine research, to analyze data quickly efficiently in-house, and to support faculty members and students through every stage of the process.
“I see the Genomics Core as a way for ISCRM to stay at the cutting edge of the field,” says Regier. “We’re increasingly seeing that genomics and transcriptomics metrics and methods are here to stay. By using these tools to better understand the heterogeneity in the cells we are looking at, we can propel our research forward and help our faculty and students publish what they’re finding.”
Regier believes providing end-to-end support for her ISCRM clients starts with learning as much about the project as possible from the early stages. Her natural curiosity makes that a labor of love. “People here are doing really cool experiments, so I appreciate every opportunity to understand the science and the underlying biological question that the researchers are asking. I really want to partner with people all the way through so that we can use the capabilities in the Genomics Core to maximize success for everyone.”
Those capabilities include the experience Regier brings to the core and a full array of instruments, including a sequencer, a 10X chromium controller for single cell preparations, resources for Visium spatial transcriptomics, a tape station for analyzing libraries and RNA, a Qubit reader for quantification, and all the smaller equipment needed to do assays. For faculty members and students who may be new to genomics, Regier stresses she is there to help to teach and support.
As the technology that drives the Genomics Core continues to evolve, Regier is eager to help ISCRM stay at the forefront of the field. “It’s definitely a priority for me to keep my finger on the pulse of what’s emerging in this space on behalf of the institute so scientists here can stay focused on their own research.”
“It’s incredibly valuable for ISCRM to have someone with Mary’s expertise who can support projects in all phases – from design to execution to data interpretation,” says Jen Davis, PhD, an Associate Director of ISCRM. “We’re so lucky to have her background in genomics and cell biology paired with her natural customer service instincts. I can’t wait to see how Mary uses the Genomics Core to elevate and accelerate our research.”
More than anything, Regier urges any ISCRM researcher with an idea or question to simply reach out. “There is no prerequisite for engaging the Genomics Core. My biggest hope is that people will come to me excited to figure it out together. That’s what I love most about my job.”