Black Family Stem Cell Institute

Stem Cells in Development

Stem cell research emerged from the field of developmental biology. These two areas are inextricably linked and together pose major questions for researchers.

A central question in biology is how the zygote (the primordial stem cell) gives rise to all other cells of the organism. Our researchers work to learn how progenitor cells of specific lineages are “set aside” as the future adult stem cells that are the basis of tissue homeostasis and regeneration. Similarly, we are exploring how processes employed during development are called back into play during regeneration and repair following injury. Finally, our scientists are looking into the differentiation of pluripotent cells to specific lineages and cell types, based on knowledge of the biological strategies underlying normal development of those cells.

Investigators at the Black Family Stem Cell Institute address these fundamental mechanisms and exploit their discoveries to further regenerative medicine in areas such as reproductive biology, homeostasis, and regeneration of specific tissue and organ systems (e.g., skin, cardiovascular, muscle), as well as the relationship between stem cells and degenerative diseases.

Investigators with a major focus in stem cells in development include:

James J. Bieker, PhD

James J. Bieker, PhD, is a Professor in the Department of Cell, Developmental, and Regenerative Biology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. The laboratory's interest is in the transcriptional regulation of red blood cell-specific gene expression, and in identifying the molecular events that confer the ability to express lineage-specific genes in uncommitted, pluripotent hematopoietic stem cells. These issues are being addressed by the functional analysis of a novel, erythroid-specific gene that the Bieker Laboratory identified a number of years ago named erythroid Krüppel-like factor; EKLF. Biochemical, molecular, cellular, developmental, and genetic studies in mice and humans have established that EKLF is an essential component required for globin switching and completion of the definitive erythroid program.

Using our model system, we aim to disentangle genotype from phenotype and cell-type and identify disease relevant common and unique pathways that hold promise for future therapies.

Ongoing research interests include:

  • Analyzing EKLF protein/protein interactions and how they result in altered transcriptional and epigenetic changes at target loci
  • Determining how molecular controls converge to regulate late events in erythropoiesis, particularly enucleation
  • Analyzing EKLF upstream regulators to explain its exquisite tissue-restricted expression pattern, and to possibly link alteration of its expression level to aberrant red cell biology
  • Determining the mechanism by which a human mutation in EKLF leads to congenital dyserythropoietic anemia.

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Nicole C. Dubois, PhD

Nicole Dubois, PhD, received her PhD in Cell and Developmental Biology from the Swiss Institute for Experimental Cancer Research and the University of Lausanne with Andreas Trumpp, PhD. She did her postdoctoral training in the laboratory of Gordon Keller, PhD, at the University Health Network in Toronto with a focus on pluripotent stem cell biology and their differentiation to cardiovascular lineages. She is currently an Associate Professor in the Department of Cell, Developmental, and Regenerative Biology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, the Black Family Stem Cell Institute, and the Mindich Child Health and Development Institute. Dr. Dubois' group studies early heart development and congenital heart disease using pluripotent stem cell differentiations and the mouse embryo as model systems.

Ongoing research interests include:

  • Understanding the molecular mechanisms of atrial-ventricular development
  • Exploring pluripotent stem cell differentiation to cardiovascular lineages
  • Looking at cardiac maturation and tissue engineering
  • Investigating long non-coding RNAs during cardiac development
  • Exploring cardiac toxicity of cancer drugs (LINCS project)

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Elena Ezhkova, PhD

Elena Ezhkova, PhD, is an Associate Professor in the Cell, Developmental, and Regenerative Biology Department. Her laboratory implements an array of powerful cellular and high-throughput molecular biology tools to dissect how epigenetic gene regulators, specifically the polycomb repressive complexes 1 and 2 (PRC1 and PRC2), play a role in cell fate determination, homeostasis, and regeneration. Her lab has recently showed that PRC1 functions both as a transcriptional repressor and as a transcriptional activator during skin development. Importantly, PRC1-mediated gene activating functions are critical for hair follicle development and for the establishment of the adult bulge stem cell compartment. Identification of these molecular mechanisms that control cell fate determination, commitment, and differentiation aids in expanding our understanding of tissue development and the progression of various tissue disorders, including cancer. 

Ongoing research interests include:

  • Uncovering the molecular mechanism of PRC-mediated gene regulation in skin development, homeostasis, and regeneration
  • Dissecting the canonical and non-canonical PRC function in different epithelial tissues, including skin and oral epithelia
  • Uncovering the molecular mechanisms controlling Merkel cell development and maintenance and Merkel cell carcinoma formation

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Bruce D. Gelb, MD

Bruce Gelb, MD, is the Gogel Family Professor of Child Health and Development and Professor of Pediatrics and Genetics and Genomic Sciences at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and he directs the Mindich Child Health and Development Institute. He is a co-leader of a National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute-funded training program in molecular and cellular cardiology. Dr. Gelb’s research group studies the genetic causes of cardiovascular diseases of childhood, particularly focusing on congenital heart defects and inherited disorders of the Ras/microtubule-associated protein (MAP) kinase signal transduction pathway (called RASopathies). His group, working with the then Black Family Stem Cell Institute Director, Ihor Lemischka, PhD, generated the first human induced pluripotent stem cell (hiPSC) model of a cardiovascular trait (hypertrophic cardiomyopathy for Noonan syndrome with multiple lentigines).

Ongoing research interests include:

  • Understanding the pathogenesis of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy for RASopathies
  • Discovering novel therapies for hypertrophic cardiomyopathy for RASopathies
  • Understanding congenital heart defect pathogenesis due to histone modifier mutations

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Saghi Ghaffari, MD, PhD, is a Professor of Cell, Developmental, and Regenerative Biology and a member of The Tisch Cancer Institute. Her lab studies mechanisms that sustain blood forming stem and progenitor cells (HSPCs) throughout life and that are perturbed in disease. Her team is particularly interested in programs that maintain quiescence of blood-forming stem cells, a property that determines the potency and overall regenerative capacity of adult stem cells and that is lost with age. Quiescence is also a mechanism by which malignant stem cells resist therapy. To attain this goal, the Ghaffari Laboratory has been investigating metabolic and mitochondrial-related programs and organelle communications in young and aged HSPCs. The Ghaffari lab uses a variety of approaches, including various omics, super resolution imaging, and gene modulation technology combined with genetically modified mouse models and human cells to address these questions.

Ongoing research interests include:

  • Investigating mechanisms that control mitochondria-lysosome communication in normal mouse and human hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) in aged HSCs and in leukemic stem cells
  • Exploring transcriptional and epigenetic programs that regulate organelle biogenesis in HSPCs and their alteration with age
  • Investigating metabolic and redox regulation of erythroid cell maturation and identifying mechanisms and components of mitochondria-nucleus communication during this process
  • Elucidating mechanisms of apoptosis in beta-thalassemia

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Robert A Krauss, PhD

Robert Krauss, PhD, is a Professor of Cell, Developmental, and Regenerative Biology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and Co-director of the Development, Regeneration, and Stem Cells training area for graduate students. His lab is interested in how niche-derived signals regulate stem cell function, using the skeletal muscle lineage as a model system. His lab showed that cadherins are niche factors that promote quiescence of skeletal muscle stem cells under homeostatic conditions, and regulate activation of these cells in response to injury, thereby facilitating tissue regeneration. His lab uses a variety of approaches, including mouse genetics and molecular cell biology, to address questions about how the muscle stem cell niche is constructed, maintained, and functions. The Krauss Laboratory also studies the Nodal and Hedgehog signaling pathways and how deficiency in these pathways results in the common birth defect, holoprosencephaly.

Ongoing research interests include:

  • Exploring how cadherins regulate cytoskeletal architecture in muscle stem cells to provide structural integrity, mechanosensation, and cell polarity
  • Identifying and analyzing the components of the adherens junction formed between muscle stem cells and their major niche cell, the myofiber
  • Modeling the complex etiology of holoprosencephaly in mice
  • Assessing functional consequences of human mutations involved in holoprosencephaly

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Florence Marlow, PhD

Florence Marlow, PhD, is an Associate Professor of Cell, Developmental, and Regenerative Biology, Co-director of the Development, Regeneration, and Stem Cells training area for graduate students, and an Associate Director for the Medical Scientist Training Program, all at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. Her team uses genetic, molecular, cell biological, and embryological approaches to investigate the molecular pathways and cell biological events that regulate specification and maintenance of the germline and that maintain polarity and function in oocytes and in neurons. Her lab identified RNAbps that interact with a key regulator of oocyte polarity and identified novel factors required for sex-specific differentiation of germline cells.

Ongoing research interests include:

  • Determining how RNAbps control sex-specific differentiation of germline stem cells
  • Performing genetic and cell biological analyses of the specialized cell divisions of germline stem cells and their immediate daughters
  • Exploring how RNAbps regulate buckyball and oocyte polarity
  • Analyzing mitochondrial bottlenecks in the germline
  • Studying microglia involvement in shaping neural circuits underlying complex behaviors in juveniles and adults

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Sarah E. Millar

Sarah E. Millar, PhD, is Director of the Black Family Stem Cell Institute, and Lillian and Henry M. Stratton Professorial Chair in the Departments of Cell, Developmental, and Regenerative Biology, and Dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. Understanding the molecular and cellular mechanisms regulating the development, patterning, and postnatal renewal of the skin and ectodermal appendage organs such as hair follicles, teeth, and taste papillae, and identifying stem and progenitor cell populations in these organs, is critical for developing new therapies to accelerate wound healing, treat hair loss diseases, repair or replace diseased teeth, and ameliorate taste dysfunction. Research in the Millar Laboratory focuses on cell-cell signaling and epigenetic mechanisms that underlie these processes. In published research, researchers identified Wnt/beta-catenin signaling as a key pathway required for initiating the formation of ectodermal appendages from multipotent cells in mammalian embryos, and in controlling development and patterning of haired versus hairy skin. By analyzing genetic mouse models and tissues from human patients carrying mutations in the WNT10A gene, we showed that Wnt signaling plays a key role in regulating the functions of a wide variety of adult epithelial stem cells, as well as in controlling specialized differentiation programs in palmoplantar skin. We have also identified critical functions for epigenetic regulators including micro-RNAs and chromatin modifiers in skin development and regeneration.

Ongoing research interests include:

  • Investigating mechanisms that cause ectodermal dysplasia in patients with mutations in the WNT10A gene, and testing potential therapeutic strategies
  • Determining the mechanisms that underlie the formation and maintenance of hairy versus hairless skin and regulate hair patterning
  • Delineating the functions of histone deacetylase chromatin modifiers in skin development, stem cells, and cancer
  • Identifying pioneer transcription factors that control development and stem cell activity in skin and oral epithelia

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Marek Mlodzik, PhD

Marek Mlodzik, PhD is Professor and Chair of Cell, Developmental, and Regenerative Biology, and Professor in the Departments of Oncological Sciences and Ophthalmology.  He is also on the IAB of the Tisch Cancer Institute, and organizes several cell signaling events in NYC. His team studies the mechanisms of the Wnt and Notch signaling pathways with specific focus on the role of Wnt-signaling in the planar cell polarity (PCP) pathway in normal organogenesis and patterning and disease contexts, including cancer, neural tube closure defects, and ciliopathies.  The Wnt/PCP pathway and Wnt signaling in general are critical in many stem cell niche interactions and stem cell maintenance. The lab uses primarily the Drosophila model for in vivo studies and mammalian cell based work for functional biochemical assays. His lab is the leader in the Wnt-PCP field, both in normal patterning as well as in functional disease dissections.

Ongoing research interests include:

  • Investigating the regulatory interactions among the core PCP signaling factors and associated cell adhesion behavior
  • Dissecting the process of nuclear translocation of beta-catenin in Wnt-signaling
  • Modeling the complex functional behavior of neural tube closure defect patients in PCP establishment in Drosophila
  • Understanding novel regulatory inputs to Notch signaling and associated read-outs

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Kateri Moore, DVM

Kateri Moore, DVM, is a Professor in Cell, Developmental, and Regenerative Biology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and a member of The Tisch Cancer Institute. Her research is focused on both normal and reprogrammed hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs). To study normal hematopoiesis, she uses mouse models that allow her to define the characteristics of temporally defined quiescent HSCs during homeostasis. She researches perturbed hematopoiesis and aging HSCs using this model. These studies have implications for understanding the ability of leukemic stem cells and other tumor initiating cells to mimic normal stem cells and remain quiescent, thus evading current therapies. Her lab has reported direct reprogramming of mouse and human fibroblasts into hematopoietic cells using transcription factors. Insights gained during the reprogramming studies have led to the prospective isolation of the immediate precursor cell that give rise to definitive HSC during embryonic development. These studies have broad applications to cancers of the blood and immune system and others that require a stem cell transplant.

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Michael Rendl

Michael Rendl, MD, is a Professor of Cell, Developmental, and Regenerative Biology and Dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai; Director of the NYSTEM Training Program in Stem Cell Biology; and Associate Director of the Black Family Stem Cell Institute. His team studies the formation and function of stem cell niches, using hair follicle formation during skin development and adult hair growth and regeneration as a model system. Dermal papilla (DP) cells are specialized mesenchymal niche cells that instruct hair follicle stem cells and progenitors. His laboratory discovered embryonic DP precursors, defined molecular signatures of embryonic and mature DP cells, and established the essential roles of Wnt signaling and the transcription factor Sox2 for DP functions. The lab has uncovered the DP-related dermal sheath (DS) as a key niche component for hair cycle progression and progenitor pruning, essential for the next wave of stem cell activation. Overall, insights from these studies reveal mechanisms on how stem cell niches function and provide a platform for developing hair regenerative therapies.

Ongoing research interests include:

  • Understanding the molecular controls that regulate DP niche fate and function
  • Investigating DP signals that regulate stem cell and progenitor functions
  • Dissecting DS cellular and molecular mechanisms of hair cycle regulation

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Christoph Schaniel, PhD

Christoph Schaniel, PhD, is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Pharmacological Sciences, the Department of Cell, Developmental and Regenerative Biology, and a member of the Mount Sinai Institute for System Biomedicine. His research is centered on understanding the cellular and molecular nature of hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) in health and disease. He helped develop a clinical ex vivo expansion and cryopreservation process of umbilical cord blood HSCs for allogenic stem cell transplantation in refractory hematological malignancies that is being evaluated in a clinical trial (in collaboration with Ronald Hoffman, MD, and Camelia Iancu-Rubin, PhD). Additionally, he is investigating the mechanism and clinical applicability of direct reprogramming of HSCs from somatic cells for cell replacement therapies (together with Kateri A. Moore, DVM). Other research focuses on the effect of valproic acid on normal vs. malignant HSCs, the underlying pathologies of hematological malignancies and cancers using human primary stem cells, and induced pluripotent stem cells (PSCs). He is also invested in various projects aimed at understanding the mechanisms of cardiovascular diseases and drug action, responses, and toxicity in individuals using induced PSCs with the goal of advancing and developing precise and personalized therapeutic treatments.

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Alexander M. Tsankov

Alexander M. Tsankov, PhD, is an Assistant Professor in Genetics and Genomic Sciences at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. He completed his PhD in electrical engineering and computer science at MIT and his postdoctoral training at the Broad Institute and Harvard University (Alex Meissner and Aviv Regev’s lab). The Tsankov lab overall vision is to use genomics to build data-driven, predictive models that improve diagnosis, find new drug-able pathways, and personalize treatment of patients with lung cancer and respiratory diseases. The lab specializes in next generation sequencing (NGS) technologies (e.g. single-cell transcriptomic, epigenomic, and spatial data) and computational analysis with the goal of unraveling how the underlying regulatory mechanisms, cell-cell interactions, and regenerative lineages have changed in lung disease compared to normal lung tissue homeostasis.

Ongoing research interests include:

  • Using single-cell technologies to reconstruct the regenerative lineages in the human lung and to understand how these have been hijacked in cancer or altered in lung disease
  • Investigating cell-cell interactions and their role on lung regeneration, disease progression, and immunosuppression.
  • Dissecting the cell-type specific regulatory mechanisms underlying normal lung homeostasis and changes that arise in respiratory disease and lung cancer

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