Zoldan Lab

Engineering Stem Cell Microenvironments

The Zoldan Group, under the direction of Dr. Janet Zoldan at the University of Texas at Austin, is dedicated to further elucidating the effects of a stem cell’s microenvironment on the cell’s proliferation, migration, and differentiation. In this endeavor, we aim to both add to our fundamental understanding of stem cell behavior while leveraging the knowledge gained to develop new stem cell therapies for patients suffering from cardiovascular diseases. If you’re further interested in our research, check out the Research and Lab Members tabs to see the projects that are currently being undertaken in the lab. If you have further questions, feel free to contact us following the directions in the Contact tab.

Cody Successfully Defends!

Cody Crosby successfully defended his thesis titled “Quantifying the Vasculogenic Potential of Induced Pluripotent Stem Cell-derived Endothelial Progenitors in Angiogenic Hydrogels” on July 28th. Cody persevered through the challenges of having to defend virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic and we are so proud of him! We are looking forward to all that he will accomplish as an Assistant Professor of Applied Physics at Southwestern University!

Brett and Nikhith Pass Qualifying Exams

We extend a hearty congratulations to our 2nd year graduate students, Brett Stern and Nikhith Kalkunte, as they passed their qualifying exam with no conditions! Nikhith discussed his plan for generating specific, mature cardiac tissue for MI treatment while Brett talked about his plan for “painting” vasculatures using gold nanoparticle tagged liposomes in complex hydrogels.

Dr. Zoldan is awarded NIH Trailblazer Grant

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On the wall of Janet Zoldan’s lab, which is teeming with enthusiastic students, is a poster with ZOLDAN LAB in capital letters printed across the top. Underneath it lies a short, curious statement: Stem Cells Are Like Pokèmon.

“Stem cells can become any cell type just as Pokémon can evolve into more advanced Pokémon,” said Zoldan, an assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering in the Cockrell School of Engineering. When exposed to specific physical or chemical signals, or cues, a stem cell can become a specialized cell. This process is also known as differentiation.

Her work on engineering the fate of human-induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) — adult cells that can be converted to embryonic-like stem cells and used to treat everything from diabetes to heart failure — earned her recognition this year from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) with the Trailblazer Award, which is given annually by NIH’s National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering to select early-stage investigators exploring new areas of biomedical research. Zoldan is the first UT Austin faculty member to receive the award.

Through a novel biomedical engineering process, Zoldan is looking at how iPSCs “evolve” into the cells needed to form new blood vessels and how near-infrared light can be utilized to precisely control this process. The Trailblazer Award will allow her to continue her work and develop new stem cell therapies for patients suffering from cardiovascular diseases.

“We are trying to develop a microenvironment whereby patient-specific stem cells can be coerced to form blood vessels via light activation,” Zoldan said. “In simple terms, we are painting vessels with light.”

Nima Publishes in Trends in Molecular Medicine

Congratulations to our new postdoc, Dr. Nima Momtahan, who had his opinion article on the role of reactive oxygen species in cardiac maturation published in Trends in Molecular Medicine. The article is linked here and the abstract is listed below:

Recent advances in developmental biology and biomedical engineering have significantly improved the efficiency and purity of cardiomyocytes (CMs) generated from pluripotent stem cells (PSCs). Regardless of the protocol used to derive CMs, these cells exhibit hallmarks of functional immaturity. In this Opinion, we focus on reactive oxygen species (ROS), signaling molecules that can potentially modulate cardiac maturation. We outline how ROS impacts nearly every aspect associated with cardiac maturation, including contractility, calcium handling, metabolism, and hypertrophy. Though the precise role of ROS in cardiac maturation has yet to be elucidated, ROS may provide a valuable perspective for understanding the molecular mechanisms for cardiac maturation under various conditions.


Cody Publishes in JoVE

We are excited to announce that a detailed protocol of our work recently published in Tissue Engineering, Part A, has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Visualized Experiments (JoVE). Congratulations Cody! The publication is linked here and the abstract can be found below:

Endothelial progenitors derived from induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC-EPs) have the potential to revolutionize cardiovascular disease treatments and to enable the creation of more faithful cardiovascular disease models. Herein, the encapsulation of iPSC-EPs in three-dimensional (3D) collagen microenvironments and a quantitative analysis of these cells’ vasculogenic potential are described.


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