2023 SCRMC Research Training Award Winners

The SCRMC Research Training Awards were established in 2008 to recognize and provide support for promising graduate students and postdoctoral fellows of all citizenships conducting stem cell and regenerative medicine research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The 2023 SCRMC Research Training Awards Program provides unique, interdisciplinary training for four future leaders in stem cell and regenerative medicine research. Additionally, this program will foster interdisciplinary collaborations among campus investigators. 

The SCRMC and the awardees would like to thank those who philanthropically support the SCRMC and make these awards possible. 

Meet the 2023 SCRMC Research Training Award Winners

Rodsy Modhurima

Left to right: Rodsy Modhurima and Emery Bresnick

Emery Bresnick Lab

Research project title: Role of GATA Factor-Regulated Signaling Networks in Maintaining Hematopoietic Progenitor Cells

Description of Research:

Modhurima will be investigating GATA factors, particularly GATA1 and GATA2, the master transcription factors that regulate the expression of transporters, enzymes, and receptors to facilitate the maintenance, function, and differentiation of blood stem and progenitor cells. Her focus is on GATA factor-regulated signaling networks and their role in progenitor cell growth and differentiation. The discovery of novel multi-cytokine and chemokine networks can unveil new opportunities for cell engineering, which is critically necessary to overcome limitations of expanding hematopoietic stem cells ex vivo and potentially for antagonizing growth-stimulatory and/or pro-survival mechanisms in hematologic malignancies.

“My interest in parsing cell signaling pathways was sparked during an undergraduate seminar course called “Signal Transduction to Cancer,” says Modhurima. “Solving these intricate puzzles of signaling networks with the Bresnick Lab is incredibly rewarding as it advances our understanding of how blood stem and progenitor cells survive, function, and develop into mature blood cells, and thereby expands our ability to help patients struggling with hematologic malignancies.”

Kwangdeok Shin

Left to right: Kwangdeok Shin and Junsu Kang

Junsu Kang Lab 

Research project title: Dissecting roles of il11a as a pro-regenerative and fibrotic factor in zebrafish heart regeneration

Description of Research:

Adult mammals have a limited ability to regenerate their hearts after cardiac injury. In contrast, zebrafish can regenerate their hearts throughout their lifespan. Therefore, Shin is interested in understanding cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying the heart regeneration in zebrafish in hopes of developing therapeutic strategies for heart repair in humans.

“As cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the USA and worldwide, investigating how regenerative species like zebrafish can repair their hearts will uncover a novel regenerative factor that could save the lives of heart failure patients. Hence, studying zebrafish heart regeneration makes me feel pride in my contribution to our society,” says Shin. “This award is a critical step for me to move forward as an investigator.”

Nicole M. Woodhead

Left to right: Nicole M. Woodhead and Owen Tamplin

Owen Tamplin Lab

Research project title: Integrin alpha 4 (itga4)-mediated lodging in the fetal liver niche triggers programmed quiescence of hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells (HSPCs)

Description of Research:

Hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells (HSPCs) reside in a microenvironment that regulates their behavior by interactions with niche support cells. Woodhead’s research studies the signals provided by the embryonic microenvironment that reprograms HSPCs during development. In the embryo HSPCs rapidly proliferate, compared to adulthood when they become quiescent. Woodhead’s research goal is to understand the microenvironmental cues that regulate this transition from proliferation to quiescence. Specifically, the Tamplin Lab is characterizing a mutant zebrafish model with perturbed interaction between HSPCs and the embryonic microenvironment. This has uncovered candidate genes involved in the gene regulatory networks that control developmental HSPC reprogramming. The lab hopes that a better understanding of embryonic niche-dependent reprogramming of HSPCs will lead to improved cellular treatments for patients with blood diseases and cancer.

“I have always been fascinated with regulatory mechanisms in cells and wondered how these could be manipulated for therapeutic benefit. As a blood cancer survivor, I am very passionate about my work in the Tamplin lab because this project has the possibility to improve techniques for blood stem cell expansion and may lead to new therapeutic targets to treat hematologic malignancy,” says Woodhead. “Receiving this trainee award is an exciting start to my career in scientific research and I am very grateful to have the support of SCRMC.”

Eliana F. Torres-Zelada

Left to right: Melissa Harrison and Eliana F. Torres-Zelada

Melissa Harrison Lab

Research project title: Identifying limitations to pioneer factor-mediated reprogramming

Description of Research:

Torres-Zelada is interested in understanding key developmental pathways and how alterations in gene expression contribute to these processes. Specifically, her research will investigate how the function of proteins that act at the top of gene regulatory networks contribute to key developmental transitions.

“I believe that studying and determining the regulatory mechanisms driving gene expression will provide insights into general features regulating cell-fate transitions and how misregulation can lead to tumorigenesis,” says Torres-Zelada. “I am grateful for the award offered by SCRMC since, as an international postdoc, it is difficult to find fellowships/funding opportunities like this. I will be able to continue doing the research that I love with peace of mind and motivation that I am supported by such a great community.”