I am a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in the Cell Biology, Genetics, and Molecular Medicine discipline of the Integrated Biomedical Sciences program.
However, my journey in UT Health starts in 2016 when I joined in as a master’s student in Cell Systems and Anatomy program. I chose to build my biomedical research career at UT Health because of the cutting-edge mitochondrial research conducted. And I received my training from Dr. Yidong Bai, a pioneer in mitochondrial research and a wonderful mentor, one could ask.
I studied Leber’s Hereditary Optic Neuropathy (LHON), a mitochondrial neurological disease affecting retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) caused by a mutation in mitochondrial DNA encoding respiratory complex I subunit. My goal was to develop a relevant cell model system to study the pathogenesis of LHON using induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (iPSCs) technology. iPSCs is the most powerful technology our generation has seen where we can “erase the skin cell’s previous history and return it to an embryonic state, from which it can become not just a skin cell again, but any cell in the body.” The quote is from Alice Park from her book The Stem Cell where she elegantly explains iPS cells.
During my time as a master’s student, I had a breath-taking moment when I glanced at the pristine iPSC clone, which I had reprogrammed from the LHON patient’s fibroblast.
I submitted a mesmerizing micrograph of iPSCs to the Briscoe Library Research Photography Competition in 2020 titled “When Your Cells Can Reborn Again!” and the iPSC clone won second place, hanging proudly on the wall of Briscoe Library. I am truly blessed to be able to conduct such extraordinary work.
For my thesis, I presented a method I acquired from stem cell research to differentiate iPSCs toward RGCs. My first author paper titled “Creating Cell Model 2.0 for Pathogenic Mitochondrial DNA Mutation: iPSC Approach for LHON Mutation” got accepted at “Methods in Molecular Biology” which details methods to differentiate primary cells to iPSCs and towards RGCs with the goal to enable studies to understand the LHON pathogenesis.
Now, as a Ph.D. student, I continue to study how mitochondrial dysfunction contributes to kidney failure in the Center for Renal Precision Medicine led by the leader in the field of precision medicine and a pioneer in mitochondrial research, Dr. Kumar Sharma. I employ metabolomics technology to identify any changes in the mitochondrial metabolites that may be involved in the pathophysiological pathway for kidney disease progression.
I have been in an extraordinary position to have found my love for mitochondria research from early on in my career. My biomedical research journey first started in Dr Lee Ann MacMillan-Crow’s laboratory at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. Having such a trailblazer in mitochondrial research as my coach, she instilled a passion for this topic in me. And I am continuing my journey to become a mitochondrial research scientist here at UT Health San Antonio.
I am blessed to have mitochondrial research pioneers as my mentors who teach me to think critically and, most importantly, to have a vision forward in the field of mitochondrial research. I hope that I am able to contribute further to our understanding of mitochondria in human disease.