Students Working with Stem Cells at UCR
Daniel Nampe (Tsutsui Laboratory)

My name is Daniel Nampe and I am a Ph.D student under the guidance of Dr. Hideaki Tsutsui. My research is on the development of a 3D dynamic suspension culture for large-scale production of human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs) and their progeny. Specifically, I am investigating the impact of fluidic agitation for controlling stem cell fate in a spinner flask bioreactor. My objective is to identify the mechanism by which hydrodynamic forces, such as shear stress regulate survival, proliferation, and lineage-specific differentiation of hPSCs. Once impact of fluidic forces are more understood, my future research efforts will focus on controlling cell differentiation by utilizing precisely controlled hydrodynamic conditions to generate pure desired phenotypes.


Aaron F. Cipriano (Liu Laboratory)

My research is centered at the intersection of hard tissue regeneration and materials science and engineering. The overall goal of my research is to maximize the properties of bulk magnesium alloys to develop biodegradable metallic implants for orthopedic applications. One aspect of my Ph.D. work has focused on developing in vitro stem cell models to rapidly screen the cytocompatibility and determine cell-implant interface responses on our metallic biodegradable biomaterials. In parallel, a second aspect of my research has focused on investigating the mechanical and biodegradation properties of magnesium alloys developed specifically for biomedical applications, as well as developing strategies to modify the surfaces of these materials to improve the bioactivity. Lastly, a third aspect of my research seeks to evaluate the in vivo performance of these metallic biodegradable materials. I am affiliated with the Bioengineering department, Materials Science & Engineering program, and the Stem Cell Core at UC Riverside.


Ian James Johnson (Liu Lab)

Ian Johnson investigates the use of hydroxyapatite/polymer nanocomposite coatings to control magnesium alloy degradation and bioactivity for use in biodegradable orthopedic implants. He also examines the adhesion of bone marrow derived mesenchymal stem cells onto the implant surfaces, a critical step for implant success. This work is important for more effective bone healing and regeneration.


Soroush Ardekani (Ghosh Laboratory)

Research Focus: Impaired bioavailability of endothelium-derived nitric oxide (NO), an endogenous anti-inflammatory factor, is implicated in various inflammation-mediated pathologies such as pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH), atherosclerosis, and diabetes. Thus, restoring NO levels represents a viable approach for anti-inflammatory therapies. Importantly, current anti-inflammatory treatments are limited in their clinical use because they cause severe side effects upon administration. The field of nanomedicine has enabled the development of site-targeting nanomaterials (liposomal and polymeric) that can deliver therapeutic agents (drugs and stem/progenitor cells) locally to sites of tissue defects and greatly improve their therapeutic efficacy by simultaneously increasing drug half-life and reducing toxic off-target effects. Our lab (PI: Dr. Kaustabh Ghosh, Bioengineering) is leveraging such nanotherapeutic approaches to address the major limitations associated with contemporary drug and cell treatments.


Atena Zahedi (Talbot Laboratory)

Research Focus: The primary focus of my research is to study the effects of electronic cigarettes (ECs) on the cytotoxicity of primary adult and embryonic cells. By engineering molecular tools and video bioinformatics techniques, I can probe and analysis the underlying biological processes that may become impaired due to direct exposure or prenatal exposure to toxic constituents in ECs. Using genetically-encoded reporters, I create various stable cell lines expressing specific reporters of cellular health. Furthermore, I have developed/use a live video tracking software StemCellQC, which can characterize the spatial and temporal dynamics of stem cells by monitoring features related to growth, morphogenesis, motility and apoptosis.


Vasundhra Bahl (Talbot Laboratory)

Research Summary: The prime focus of my research is toxicological evaluation of thirdhand cigarette smoke (THS) through the use of stem cell and adult cell models. The main emphasis is on end points such as cell survival, cell morphology, mitochondrial health and DNA damage using cell based assays like MTT, live cell imaging, fluorescent labeling, biochemical assays, single cell gel electrophoresis and PCR. This study is one of the pioneers of toxicological screening of THS and will provide valuable insights into how THS could potentially affect cellular physiology. It will serve as a basis upon which experiments with animal models can be later designed to get a comprehensive understanding of THS health effects. Data from this study has the potential to form the foundation for framing policies on indoor smoking, regulating exposure to THS, and establishing criteria for remediation.


Careen Kachatoorian (Talbot Laboratory)

Careen is a graduate student in the Cell, Molecular, Developmental PhD. program working in Dr. Prue Talbot's lab. Her research is focused on the investigation of Electronic Cigarette Residue (ECR), which is the exhaled vapor that settles on surfaces. She plans to extract residue from field samples of fabrics exposed to ECR to test for cytotoxicity and to potentially identify the components of the residue. ECR will be tested on different cell types using the Nikon BioStation CT in the Stem Cell Core to identify differences in cell health endpoints. Mitochondrial morphology and fluorescence intensity will also be studied to identify if ECR toxicants are responsible for cell stress.


Lauren Walker (Nicole zur Nieden Laboratory)

Environmental Toxicology PhD Student, B.S. Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, UC Davis

I am currently investigating the biochemical mechanism(s) of tobacco/oxidative stress-induced effects on development as well as an alternate method for embryotoxicity screening using human induced pluripotent stem cells to avoid the limitations and ethical complications of mouse and human embryonic stem cell assays.


Linh Vuong (Frances M. Sladek Laboratory)

My graduate work was to look at the role of HNF4α in proliferation and differentiation in human colon cancer cells (HCT116) and mouse embryonic stem cells (mESCs). Proliferation and differentiation are two opposing events in normal development and cancer. Several key factors are known to be involved in balancing these two events; dysregulation of any of the factors could offset the balance. HNF4α is a nuclear receptor that has several isoforms, which are driven by two alterative promoters (P1 and P2) and 3' splicing events, and plays a pivotal role in development and in maintaining the homoeostasis of the adult liver and colon. The role of the P1-HNF4α isoforms in proliferation and cancer has been extensively studied; however, little is known about the role of the P2-HNF4α isoforms in those processes. To decipher the role of the promoter-driven HNF4α isoforms in proliferation and differentiation, under the guidance of Dr. Frances M Sladek, I generated Tet-On inducible HCT116 and mESC lines that express either the human P1 promoter-driven HNF4α2 or P2 promoter-driven HNF4α8 isoform under the control of doxycycline. I performed ChIP-seq for HNF4α and RNA-seq in HCT116 lines to determine global changes in gene expression and regulation between the two isoforms. I also performed RNA-seq in mESC lines to identify genes that are responsible for the morphological changes and the decrease in cell numbers observed in the mESCs after DOX induction in both the HNF4?2 and HNF4?8 lines. Our findings show that HNF4α8 is a poor tumor suppressor and is not able to completely slow growth in colon cancer and mouse ES cells.


Maricela Maldonado (Nam Laboratory)

Maricela Maldonado is a PhD graduate student in the Bioengineering Department at UC Riverside. She is currently working in the Tissue Regenerative Engineering and MechanoTransduction (TREAT) lab under the guidance of Dr. Jin Nam. Her research focuses on directing the differentiation of human pluripotent stem cells towards specific lineages via modulating the cell's mechanical environment using electrospun nanofibrous scaffolds. By identifying the key mechanisms through which stem cells are affected by their mechanical microenvironment, defined protocols can be developed to enhance lineage-specific differentiation.


Michael A. Bennett, MSc Student (Soto Laboratory)

Research Project: My research project is focused on cancer stem cells under the caption: "Factors influencing plasticity in normal and cancer stem cells". This investigation entails studying the effect of manipulating the microenvironment of both iPSCs and CSCs with the ultimate goal of identifying potential molecular targets to diminish or reverse the cancer malignant phenotype.


Nicole RL Sparks (Nicole zur Nieden Laboratory)

Research: Birth defects are the leading cause of infant mortality in the United States. Tobacco exposure during embryonic development is one of the strong risk factors for developing such a congenital birth defect. An understudied, yet important abnormality caused by maternal smoking is the improper development of the embryonic skeleton, which can result in long-term burdens on the affected child and their family. Although studies have shown that exposure to tobacco products (TPs) can have detrimental effects on bone development, there is a lack of investigation to reveal the molecular mechanisms involved in tobacco-induced skeletal teratogenesis. I aim to contribute scientific knowledge on how exposure to TPs can modify the regulatory gene profiles that result in inappropriate cell patterning during bone development using a human embryonic stem cell (hESC) in vitro model. My research will contribute insight into previously unidentified regulators of tobacco teratogenicity by1) identifying the tobacco-induced teratogenicity during the development of osteoblasts, the bone forming cells, and 2) provide a mechanism behind the adverse effects TPs on differentiating cells.


Rachel Z. Behar (Talbot Laboratory)

Rachel Z. Behar is a 5th year Ph.D. student in the Cell, Molecular and Developmental Biology (CMDB) graduate program and was recently awarded an NIH pre-doctoral fellowship to support her research dealing with the effects of electronic cigarette refill fluids and aerosols on embryonic and lung cell health. Additionally, Rachel has been the recipient of the Graduate Research Mentoring Program award (funded by UCR) and the Cornelius Hopper award (funded by TRDRP) to carry out her work with electronic cigarettes. Rachel received her BS degree in Biological Sciences from UCI where she graduated with honors. Since entering the CMDB graduate program at UCR, she has published several papers dealing with the development of assays for accessing cytotoxicity using human embryonic stem cells and human pulmonary fibroblasts. She subsequently used these assays to identify flavoring chemicals in some electronic cigarette products that are highly cytotoxic to embryonic and adult ling cells.


Harry Scott (Ghosh Laboratory)

I am a fourth year Ph.D student in the vascular biology lab of Dr. Kaustabh Ghosh. My research focuses on understanding the role of sub-endothelial matrix stiffness in endothelial cell function and activation. Further, I am currently working on characterizing key mechanotransduction pathways involved in both normal endothelial function and in disease, such as diabetes, emphysema, and atherosclerosis. In addition to identifying potential therapeutic targets for these pathologies, my work also aims to understand the role matrix stiffness plays in directing endothelial phenotypes in order to establish methods for directed differentiation of stem cells and endothelial progenitors into specific endothelial sublineages. Currently, I am looking at models of atherosclerotic, ApoE -/-, and diabetic mice, db/db and streptozotocin induced diabetes, to better understand this mechanotransduction process in vivo.


Xiao Yang (Ghosh Laboratory)

Endothelial dysfunction is one of the key characteristics in various conditions such as age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, and atherosclerosis. It is known that, in addition to soluble factors, cell- and extracellular matrix-dependent mechanical cues also actively regulate endothelial function and capillary formation. The goal of my research is to uncover the causal relationship between matrix stiffness and endothelial function. My primary research involves the use of human embryonic stem cells to generate subtype-specific (arterial vs. venous) endothelial cells for in vivo vasculogenesis via alteration in matrix stiffness. These differentiated endothelial cells will be an excellent cell source to generate de novo functional vessels and improve the outcome of cell-based vascular therapies.

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