Postdoctoral Fellows

Haibin Xi, Ph.D.

Previous training: University of Miami and Fudan University
Human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs) are a superior source for obtaining skeletal muscle progenitor cells (SMPCs) for treating muscle disorders such as Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD). My project is focusing on devloping an efficient and defined protocol to differentiate hPSCs to generate SMPCs following developmental myogenesis and understand the indentity of the in vitro-derived SMPCs. To achieve this, I am building transcriptional profiles of distinct myogenic populations during early human myogenesis to guide better differentiation of SMPCs from hPSCs. At the same time, I am also constructing myogenic marker reporter lines to enable high throughput screening for unbiased discovery of candidates to improve differentiation. The ultimate goal is to use hPSC-derived SMPCs in cell transplantation therapy to cure DMD.

Awards:  BSCRC Travel Award, CDMD Elevator Pitch Award Recipient 

Michael Hicks, Ph.D.

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Previous training: Arizona State University and University of Arizona
What allows transplanted stem cells to self-renew?  My goal is to determine when and where donor muscle cells take up position in the stem cell niche, to regulate muscle stem cell genes, and contribute to new muscle formation.  My current project studies how changes in the muscle environment, such as in muscular dystrophy, and levels of host muscle stem cells affect muscle cell engraftment.  We use skeletal muscle progenitor cells from hPSCs, and primary human satellite cells to benchmark and improve hPSC muscle cell functionality, to develop a more effective cell replacement therapy.  

Awards: 2015-2016 CureDuchenne Postdoctoral Fellowship; 2016-2017 CDMD- NIH U54 Wellstone Fellowship, 2017-2019 Eli and Edythe Broad Postdoctoral Fellowship and Shaffer Foundation Fellow, 2018 MBI Boyer-Parvin Postdoctoral Research Award

Courtney Young, Ph.D. (co-mentored by Melissa Spencer)

Previous training: University College London and Johns Hopkins University
My research focuses on developing a CRISPR/Cas9-mediated gene editing platform to correct the reading frame for up to 60% of Duchenne muscular dystrophy patients. We have demonstrated efficacy in DMD human induced pluripotent stem cells to restore dystrophin protein and function after differentiation to cardiac and skeletal muscle. We are currently developing in vivo strategies for our gene editing approach.
Awards: National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship 2014-current; UCLA Graduate Deans Scholar Award 2013-2014, 2017 Dissertation Year Award, Brenner Award, Charles E. & Sue K. Young Graduate Student Award.

Graduate Students

Kholoud Saleh

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Peggie Chien

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Devin Gibbs

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Previous training: Dr. Reza Ardehali Lab, UCLA and Qatar University, Bachelors of Science
My research focuses on the molecular and functional properties of muscle progenitor cells and muscle stem cells derived from human development and from human pluripotent stem cells. We are evaluating the functional engraftment potential via direct intra muscular versus systemic engraftment of CRISPR corrected cells in mouse models of DMD.

Awards:  Qatar Fellowship 2016-current


Previous Training:  University of Rochester, Rochester, New York

The mechanisms behind how skeletal muscle progenitor cells (SMPCs) and satellite cells (SCs) arise across human development are not well understood. My research focuses on understanding the molecular differences among different SMPC and SC states in human myogenic differentiation. The goal is to generate and define the best myogenic populations from human pluripotent stem cells that ultimately can be used in personalized cell therapies for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. I am exploring various avenues to modulate the cell states of these populations.

Awards: UCLA Graduate Dean's Scholar Award 2017-2019, NIH T32 Muscle Cell Biology, Pathogenesis, and Therapeutics Training Grant 2018-2019, NIH T32 Cellular and Molecular Biology Training Grant [Decline

Previous Training:  Lou Kunkel Lab, Harvard Medical School, Boston MA

Devin grew up in the small town of Waterville, Maine where he attended Colby College and double majored in Biology and Music History and Composition. At Colby, Devin was a research assistant in Professor Andrea Tilden's lab where he investigated the timing and localization of expression of Circadian Rhythm proteins in the nervous system of Crustaceans. Following Colby College, Devin was hired as a research assistant in Professor Louis Kunkel's lab at Boston Children's Hospital and Harvard Medical School. In the Kunkel lab, Devin's projects wee focused on the creation of animal models for various muscular dystrophies and identifying genetic modifiers that modified the pathology of Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. 
Awards: 2017-Present Cota Robles Fellow, NIH T32 Muscle Cell Biology, Pathogenesis, and Therapeutics Training Grant 2018-2019, NIH T32 Cellular and Molecular Biology Training Grant [Declined]

Undergraduate Students

Katrina Paras

Currently a 4th year Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology major with a minor in Biomedical Research.

Awards: i2URP Fellow, NIH-IMSD Scholar, CARE Science, Engineering, and Math Summer Program

Karen Gonzalez

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Currently a 4th year Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology major with a minor in Biomedical Research.

Awards: NIH-MARC Fellowship, HHMI EXROP Research Fellowship, NSF Fellowship