Thomas P Zwaka, MD, PhD
- PROFESSOR | Cell, Developmental & Regenerative Biology
Research Topics:Apoptosis/Cell Death, Cell Biology, Developmental Biology, Embryology, Epigenetics, Gene Regulation, Gene Therapy, Stem Cells, Tissue Engineering, Transcription Factors, Transcriptional Activation and Repression
Dr. Zwaka’s research focuses on fundamental questions surrounding stem cell biology, including how to reverse the process of differentiation and “re-program” any given cell type into a pluripotent stem cell.
Multi-Disciplinary Training AreaDevelopment, Regeneration, and Stem Cells [DRS]
MD PhD, University of Ulm
Postdoctoral, University of Wisconsin, Madison
Cell competition: Protection of early embryogenesis and pluripotent stem cells against genetic parasites through a primitive immune system
Retrotransposons can seriously damage the genome of the nascent embryo and cause sporadic diseases and infertility. Here we will explore a new sensing mechanism that involves early embryonic cells “sniffing” one another for endogenous retroviruses and the removal of cells that failed to silence their genetic parasites. Our line of investigation will provide new targets for genetic diagnosis and interventions targeting pregnancy loss, birth defects and childlessness.
Developing new models for Parkinson’s disease
We have discovered methods to enhance the self-organizing properties of differentiating pluripotent cells to promote the proper development of mid-brain structures. Ultimately, we are creating patient-specific ex vivo models of PD using the methods we are developing to generate midbrain organoids from patient iPSCs. This will allow us to get a handle on the factors relevant to each individual’s unique manifestation of the disease. We are also conducting parallel screens in this system for neuroprotective small molecules.
In this project we explore non-classical (quantum physical) properties of early embryonic cells and neurons. The idea is that the current view that cells organize activities (like signal transduction or subcellular communication) via random walks among the staggering range of possibilities is incredibly unlikely. We propose instead a quantum mechanics-based relationship between molecular assemblies and elements of cell behavior. We are currently testing the prediction that cells harbor highly specialized structures that act in a quantum-computer like fashion to orchestrate cell function at a higher level.
Molecular control of stem cells
This project seeks to clarify the molecular function Ronin, a member of the THAP (Thanatos-associated domain-containing apoptosis-associated proteins) gene family, and its biochemical role in specific cell types as they change fates. We propose that Ronin (and other THAPs) mediate promoter-promoter interactions to regulate gene transcription in a cell type-specific manner.