Cell & Molecular Biology Graduate Group

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Developmental, Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology

Overview|Leadership|Research |Communication & Outreach| Academic Requirements

Program Overview
Students within DSRB address key questions in Developmental biology, Stem cell/niche interactions, and Regenerative Biology.  The thread that unites these areas is the compelling drive to understand how tissues are first formed, how they are maintained, and how they can be repaired. The primary mission of DSRB faculty is to train students in hypothesis-driven research at the forefront of these areas. 

Individualized Training:
The curriculum in DSRB is set up to provide students with a strong foundation in fundamental developmental biology, as well as in stem cell and regenerative biology (see “Academics”).  The curriculum is complemented by an Individualized Training Plan tailored to your background, to your interests, and to your career plans. You will develop this plan in consultation with faculty advisors, and take advantage of unique resources provided by the program, such as the extensive network of alumnae distributed among various post-PhD career paths.

Stunning Research Accomplishments:
Evidence of the quality of research and the strength of the training plan is shown by the success rate among DSRB students who have applied for individual research training grants.  Fully two-thirds of our students have been awarded NIH grants for their work (20/30; an unheard of 67% success rate). Those successes are spread across diverse areas of research within DSRB labs .

A Cohesive Program:
We celebrate the diverse research within our community in our renowned “Research-in-Progress” Lunchtime series, where students present current work, with opportunity for discussion over good food. The series serves as one mechanism to polish communication skills and receive timely feedback, both on the science and on its presentation. Connections among our students are also reinforced by participation in the Developmental Biology Journal Club and the Student-invited Distinguished Lecturer Series. Our students support each other through a peer-mentoring program, and by running mock critique sessions to prepare for the oral Preliminary Exam and for fellowship proposals. Finally, students appointed to the Developmental Biology Training Grant (https://www.med.upenn.edu/dbtraininggrant/) are fully integrated into our program.

Continued Success as Your Career Progresses:
Once students have received their PhD, their success continues as they leave our program and step onto their chosen path. Of the almost 50 DSRB students who received their PhD over the last 10 years, 90% went directly into academic research, medicine, the pharmaceutical or biotech industries.

Of past students, 31 (60%) continued directly to postdoctoral positions in academia at premier institutions, such as Harvard, Stanford, Princeton, etc. Of those 31, 8 have progressed to faculty positions as Assistant or Associate Professors, spread across Academic Medical Centers, as well as large and small Universities and Colleges. Past students also included 11 MD/PhD students who all went on to finish medical school or are now in their Residency phase of training. Finally, several (6) of our graduates went on to positions in Biotech or Pharma (e.g., GSK, Merck), in research as Analysts, Supervisors and Program Managers, while other students (3) took advanced positions in Science & Medical writing.  One is a stay-at-home parent.

Many other major Academic and Medical Institutions are right here, across Philadelphia, including the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Fox Chase Cancer Center, The Wistar Institute, Thomas Jefferson University and several others. The Greater Philadelphia area has always been home to various Biotech and Pharma institutions. But, over the last five years it is becoming a hub for “Next Generation” therapeutics:
All of this converges to provide wonderful opportunities as you navigate your career choices.

This all can happen for you while experiencing an historical and vibrant city, alive with the Performing Arts, Culture, Sports and rich in world-class Museums and unique Collections.  Both the University and the City of Philadelphia are incredibly diverse and welcoming communities, with opportunities for all: http://www.upenn.edu/life-at-penn.


DSRB Faculty Leadership & Committee Structure

DSRB Executive Committee:

Jonathan Raper, Professor of Neuroscience
Michael Granato, Professor of Cell & Developmental Biology
Sarah Millar, Professor of Dermatology
Montserrat Anguera, Assistant Professor of Animal Biology, the Vet School
Camille Syrett, DSRB Student Representative

DSRB Admissions Committee:
Greg Bashaw, Professor of Neuroscience
Paul Gadue, Associate Professor, Pathology & Lab Medicine

DSRB First year Advisors:
Greg Bashaw, Professor of Neuroscience
Mary Mullins, Professor of Cell & Developmental Biology    

DSRB Second (Prelim) year advisors:

Paul Gadue, Associate Professor, Pathology & Lab Medicine
Judith Grinspan, Professor of Neurology
Wenqin Luo, Assistant Professor of Neuroscience
Patrick Seale, Associate Professor of Cell & Developmental Biology

DSRB Curriculum Committee:
Dan Kessler, Professor of Cell & Developmental Biology
Chris Lengner, Associate Professor of Animal Biology
Mary Mullins, Professor of Cell & Developmental Biology


Breadth of Research in DSRB
DSRB Students are exposed to interdisciplinary training in gametogenesis; embryonic and fetal development; nervous system development and its wiring; the genesis of tissues and organ systems as well as their homeostasis, metabolism and repair.  Exciting work is unraveling the basic biology of these processes, as well as understanding the consequences of and working toward the amelioration of diseases affecting their function.  Complementing these areas is work on Embryonic Stem Cells (ESCs) and Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (iPSCs; patient-derived iPSCs), using genome-scale approaches to understand disease processes in vitro in order to develop cell replacement strategies for therapy.  The proximity of the University of Pennsylvania Health System, a world-renowned academic medical center, provides unparalleled opportunity for translational research. 

State-of-the-Art Tools at your disposal
DSRB Students have at their disposal all the tools of the modern genomic era.  For example, some students have been developing high-throughput and genomic-scale screens, using deep sequencing, ChIP-SEQ, RNAi tools or small molecule libraries, while others are capitalizing on classical genetic analyses or CRISPR/Cas9-based screens.  Some have been utilizing high-resolution microscopy techniques, including live-imaging of cells, organs and tissues in vivo, while others have adapted novel biochemical, epigenetic and cell biological approaches to their questions.  Some students are actively isolating and manipulating ESCs and iPSCs, as well as characterizing the nuclear reprogramming events required to coax these cells into distinct neuroepithelial, mesodermal or endodermal lineages, an essential step in taking these powerful, biomedically promising entities into the clinic.  Facilitating this work is access to world-class cores, including those for Next Generation Sequencing, Proteomics, the Zebrafish facility, Stem cell & Xenografting, and Microscopy (http://www.med.upenn.edu/cores/).

Expansive Choice of Systems in which to work
You have the opportunity to choose among a wide variety of experimental model systems. This facilitates comparative and collaborative work, and can significantly speed your work. For example, you might begin attacking a question in a system that is highly adapted to a particular approach, and then can shift your work to another system more amenable to a different approach, or for addressing the follow-up part of the question.  The systems used in DSRB labs include plants, such as Arabidopsis; the yeasts; several invertebrate organisms, such as the nematode worm, fruitfly and ant; various vertebrate models, such as zebra fish, the frog, chick, rat and mouse; and, of course, various pluripotent types of stem cells, both normal and patient-derived.

Links to the Faculty areas of research in DSRB:

Embryo & Fetal development
Cell Migration, Polarity and Morphogenesis
Neurogenesis and Axonogenesis
Tissue & Organ Formation
Stem Cell/Niche Interactions
Regenerative Biology
Epigenetics, gene regulatory networks & signal integration

Communication & Outreach

Communicating your science:
An important facet of your training is developing the ability to communicate effectively and interact productively with scientific peers.  For this reason, the DSRB program uses several mechanisms to promote communication of your research.  This includes the popular student research-in-progress lunches -- a very successful forum, fostering cohesion among the students in DSRB.  Communication skills are also sharpened by opportunities to host student-invited seminar speakers; to give presentations at various symposia, such as the CAMB Graduate Symposium, various Departmental or Institute symposia, and, of course, at National and International meetings.  

Outreach to the Next Generation
Students trained in DSRB have an important responsibility to enhance scientific and technological understanding within our communities.  We want our students to convey to diverse audiences the general excitement about DSRB research as well as of their own specific accomplishments.  For these reasons, we support and encourage the participation in any of several acclaimed outreach activities.  Opportunities range from a semester as a teaching assistant to participation in a nationally renowned outreach program, or mentoring an intern in a research project for a summer. An appropriate time for our graduate students to participate in outreach would be in the middle-to-out years of their work, when coursework is complete and a thesis project is solidly underway.

-- BioEYES: with over 12 years in area public schools, the program is run by Dr. Jamie Shuda, an experienced educator who develops university-community partnerships in science.  She will provide training, help establish relationships with students and teachers, and serve as a mentor to help assess impact and effectiveness.  Students are encouraged to adapt the existing programs to best communicate their research focus to the most appropriate audience.  http://bioeyes.org/index.html 

-- The Summer Undergraduate Internship Program (SUIP):
Run successfully by Biomedical Graduate Studies for over 15 years, the program serves some 30 college interns each summer, and particularly so those from underrepresented minority groups or disadvantaged backgrounds, those with disabilities, or who attend small colleges.  In this program you will directly oversee the intern’s research in collaboration with your PI, and coach them in their summer’s end presentation to the Leadership Alliance National Symposium.

-- Mentoring local high school students in STEM science fair projects (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math); Running our DSRB booth at the Philadelphia Science on the parkway fair.


Program course requirements
Typical course & research schedule for DSRB students:

Fall of first year:
- Cell Biology (BIOM 600)
- First year seminar (literature readings + discussions; CAMB 605)
- Lab Rotation #1 (11 weeks)

Spring of first year:   
- Regulation of the Genome (BIOM 555)
- Biological Data Analysis (BIOM 611)
- Principles of Development (required for DSRB; CAMB 511)
- Lab Rotations #2 & #3 (each lasting 11 weeks)

Summer between first & second year:
- Research in prospective thesis lab

Fall of second year:
- Required for DSRB:  one of two concept-based, seminar offerings:

- Neurodevelopment, Regeneration & Repair Seminar (Bashaw & Luo; CAMB 597).
The course integrates neural specification & development, with essential functions of neurons in guidance, synapse formation and function, along with neural regeneration & repair.

- Stem Cells (Gadue & Rompolas; CAMB 697) This course covers the challenges in stem cell & regeneration biology including reprogramming, embryonic and tissue-specific stem cells, tissue regeneration, and tissue engineering.

One Elective: any graduate-level course selected based on research interest (can also be whichever of the above was not chosen to satisfy the DSRB requirement)

- Thesis lab Research

Spring of second year:

- Two Electives: selected based on research interest
- Prelim prep writing course (CAMB 695)
- Thesis lab Research

This semester ends with the successful oral defense of the Prelim Proposal.  See the "CAMB Academics" site for more general, detailed information about courses, rotations and the Prelim exam.

Elective choices:
Students have tremendous flexibility, and in consultation with faculty advisors will select electives that fit their research interests and prospective directions.  Suggested electives:

CAMB 534:Seminar on Current Genetic Research
CAMB 541:Genetic Systems
CAMB 542:Topics in Molecular Medicine
CAMB 550:Genetic Principles
CAMB 597:Neural Development, Regeneration and Repair
CAMB 608:Regulation of Eukaryotic Gene Expression
CAMB 630:Topics in Human Genetics
CAMB 632:Cell Control by Signal Transduction Pathways
CAMB 691/CAMB 692:Advanced Topics in Cell Biology and Physiology
CAMB 697:The Biology of Stem Cells
CAMB 709: Quantitative Imaging and Analysis for Biologists (QIAB)
GCB 535: Introduction to BioInformatics
GCB 536: Computational Biology
BIOL 446: Statistics for Biologists
EPID 575: Introduction to Genetic Epidemiology

DSRB gratefully acknowledges the essential support of: 
The Penn Institute for Regenerative Medicine; The Department of Cell and Developmental Biology.

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