- Ph.D. Biochemistry and Molecular Biology - UC Santa Barbara 2014
- B.S. Molecular Biology - Florida Institute of Technology, 2008
- B.S. Biochemistry - Florida Institute of Technology, 2008
The exquisite complexity of life has captured my fascination since I was a very little girl. Although obsessed with marine biology, I decided to delve into molecular-based interests after taking genetics in high school. Double majoring in molecular biology and biochemistry at the Florida Institute of Technology, I continued to be enthralled by what makes life tick at the chemical level. This encouraged me to participate in research internships such as the Plant Genome Research Project at the Boyce Thompson Institute at Cornell University in 2006 where I used QTL mapping to investigate Lesion Cell Death genes in Arabidopsis. In 2007, I participated in the Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internship at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado, where I investigated how lignin hinders the acquisition of cellulosic ethanol in biofuel production. After graduating summa cum laude from FIT in 2008, I matriculated into the Biomolecular Science and Engineering Program at UCSB. Currently, I am studying eye development using human embryonic stem cells in hopes of applying my findings to cellular therapies for age-related macular degeneration. In addition to research, I love teaching students and getting them to marvel at the complexity of life with me. I have taught as an Associate Instructor of Stem Cell Biology in Health and Disease at UCSB and as an adjunct faculty teaching Cell Biology at Westmont College.
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of blindness in the elderly and is characterized by the death of the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE), the cell layer located behind the retina. The RPE maintains the health of the primary cells responsible for vision, the photoreceptors. As AMD progresses, the RPE degrade, which causes the death of the photoreceptors and a debilitating loss of sight. Human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) can generate a limitless source of RPE for cellular therapies, therefore efforts to derive RPE from hESCs to graft into AMD patients are under development. However, to manufacture cells for clinical use, it is desirable for procedures to be performed under defined conditions sans animal products (xeno-free). My thesis aims to characterize novel, xeno-free substrates that support the growth of pluripotent hESC cultures, permit hESC differentiation into RPE, and allow attachment and survival of stem cell derived RPE onto synthetic scaffolds destined for transplantation.