Hua Mei, Ph.D.
Assistant Project Scientist
I worked on the in vitro expansion of limbal stem/progenitor cells in Sophie’s labaoratory. On the aspect of fundamental science, we looked for potential LSC markers by preferential expression of genes at basal limbal epithelium and have discovered that Wnt signaling plays an important role in LSCs and identified Frizzled 7 as a putative LSC marker, which may serve as a potential marker in the diagnosis and the quality control of expanded LSCs. The expansion of LSCs were further optimized by adding small molecules of Wnt signaling in culture medium and by over-expressing Wnt ligands in the feeder cells. On the aspect of pre-clinical trials, the mouse-derived feeder cells, which cause the concern on potential xenobiotic contamination, were replaced with human-derived feeder cells. In addition, the process and storage of amniotic membrane, which serves as the extracellular matrix during culture and as a carrier during transplantation, has been standardized and validated by laboratory parameters and on animal models. Our work benefits the fundamental understanding of LSCs and contributes to the clinical application of LSC therapy.
Kaushali Thakore-Shah, Ph.D.
The tremendous potential of stem cells to treat human disease enticed me to pursue a Ph.D. with Dr. April Pyle at UCLA, where I investigated pluripotency signaling networks in human embryonic stem cells. When a young nephew was diagnosed with a degenerative ocular disease, I was compelled to contemplate the daily challenges faced by the visually impaired. That insight led me to seek a postdoctoral position in a vision science laboratory. My research in the Deng lab involves developing a protocol for generating corneal endothelial cells from pluripotent stem cells, so as to help restore vision to individuals with corneal endothelial dysfunction. When I am not in lab, I love hanging out with my dog, exploring Los Angeles with friends, and learning mindfulness meditation