I received my B.S. in Microbiology in 2016. During my undergrad I worked in a cancer research lab and a microbial genomics lab studying the bacterial diversity found in permafrost samples. In Dr. Deng’s lab my primary focus is on the limbal stem cell deficiency project. Completing all the immunohistochemistry, helping with cell collection, and compiling and analyzing data.
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.
Jonathan Rodriguez, Ph.D.
I received my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Genetics, Cell Biology and Pathology at the University Claude Bernard in Lyon, France. During these years, I worked on cancer cells and the involvement of stress proteins in pancreatic cancer progression. I also worked on the metabolic reprogramming in Hepatitis B infected cells. My PhD, under the supervision of Prof. Ali Mojallal and Dr. Odile Damour, was focused on the use of mesenchymal stem cells from fat to accelerate skin wound healing, in a translational medicine point of view. Therefore, I built up my knowledge regarding how to reach the clinics from the bench, facing the regulatory authorities and the inherent hurdles. At the Stein Eye Institute in Dr. Sophie Deng’s lab, we are working on a process of xeno-free culture of limbal stem cells from a small limbal biopsy. Personally, my postdoctoral studies are focused on the development of quality controls to qualify our cell-based therapeutic product. To do so, I am giving interests in miRNA excreted by the cells during their growth, the cell phenotyping using multi-parametric flow cytometry in addition to their metabolic behavior. Besides this, I love playing golf, cooking and tasting/sharing wine with friends.
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