HSCI Connections

In 2020, the Harvard Stem Cell Institute’s commitment to keeping our community safe during the COVID-19 pandemic meant that we had to reimagine how we work together. Our scientists rose to the challenge and continued to forge connections in a virtual setting, ensuring that HSCI’s collaborative work could go on and especially supporting the early-career researchers who will make the next generation of advances.

2020 annual retreat

At the HSCI annual retreat, 250 researchers gathered online for a day of scientific presentations and knowledge exchange.

The program highlighted research across a diverse range of disease areas. HSCI Principal Faculty member Stuart Orkin, along with Erica Esrick, kicked off the program by sharing what it took to transform a basic discovery from the lab into a gene therapy for sickle cell anemia that is currently being tested in a clinical trial. In sickle cell disease, a mutated hemoglobin gene results in blood cells that are misshapen and cannot carry oxygen. But the fetal form of hemoglobin is not affected by the mutation, and in 2008 Orkin — along with now HSCI Principal Faculty member Vijay Sankaran — discovered a genetic switch that increases its production. Now, after years of further lab work and preclinical testing, Esrick and HSCI Principal Faculty member David A. Williams are leading a promising clinical trial at the Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center to bring this gene therapy to patients.

Two microscopy images of blood cells.
Blood cells from a patient with sickle cell anemia, before (left) and after gene therapy.

Students and trainees in the HSCI network had the opportunity to present their research and attend professional development sessions, which focused on how to get an academic job and how to find the right scientific question to pursue. The research community voted on the top trainee presentation, which was awarded to Ryoko Hamaguchi from the Christine Lian and George Murphy Labs, for her talk on using bioengineering techniques to investigate skin stem cell biology.

The formal program culminated in the announcement of the inaugural Barry Family HSCI Innovation Award for Early Investigators. The honor was awarded to Jessica Whited, assistant professor in Harvard’s Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology, in recognition of her innovative work in nerve regeneration which has the potential to open a new field of stem cell research.

Disease program seminars

HSCI’s disease programs bring together scientists across Harvard-affiliated institutions who share interests in how stem cell science applies to their disease of focus. Additionally, the programs enable joint projects across diseases. In order to spark new ideas and collaborations, we launched a series of virtual seminars in the fall of 2020 to share advances and highlight work done by trainees and junior faculty.
Diabetes Program
Stephan Kissler • Joslin Diabetes Center
“Immune regulation”
Nayara Leite • Harvard University
“Induced pluripotent stem cells for type 1 diabetes in vitro modeling and immune protection of β cells”
Blood Program
Satish Nandakumar & Lara Wahlster • Boston Children’s Hospital
“How inherited variation can alter hematopoiesis and the blood cancer risk”
Musculoskeletal Program
Jialiang Wang • Massachusetts General Hospital
“A neuronally-expressed Sp7-dependent program controls osteocyte development”
Qian Cong • Harvard School of Dental Medicine
“Heterotopic ossification is promoted by a self-amplifying and self-propagating osteogenic signaling loop”
Skin Program
George Murphy • Brigham and Women’s Hospital
“Graft-versus-host disease and COVID-19: A tale of two diseases (and why age matters)”
Diana Wang • Brigham and Women’s Hospital
“ATF3: An overlooked transcription factor for melanoma virulence?”

HSCI Internship Program

For 15 years, the HSCI Internship Program (HIP) has connected undergraduate students from around the globe to our world-class stem cell labs, where they gain first-hand research experience. Although the program was paused in 2020 and will be again in 2021 due to the ongoing pandemic, HSCI remains committed to supporting the next generation of leaders in stem cell science. Here are just a few highlights from our past interns about their HIP experience and how it helped them get to where they are now.
Portrait of Anna Dulencin.
Anna Dulencin
Then: 2006 intern from Rutgers University, New Jersey
Now: Program coordinator, Eagleton Institute of Politics
"At a time when stem cell research was at the forefront of a contested political debate, my experience as an intern inspired me to pursue opportunities at the intersection of science, politics, and public policy.”
Portrait of Alana Van Dervort.
Alana Van Dervort
Then: 2011 intern from Florida International University
Now: Ph.D. student, Harvard University
"The program was more than an inflection point in my career — the science changed my mind and the people changed my life.”
Portrait of Can Aztekin.
Can Aztekin
Then: 2013 intern from Sabancı University, Turkey
Now: EPFL Life Sciences Independent Research Scholar, Switzerland
"HIP set the bar for the research and work ethic required to conduct world-class science, by introducing me to a superb research environment, as well as with its courses and very interactive social program.”
Portrait of Richard Giadone.
Richard Giadone
Then: 2014 intern from University of Massachusetts Lowell
Now: Postdoctoral fellow, Harvard University
"As the first person in my family to attend college, HIP opened my eyes to just what a career in academic research is.”
Portrait of Jorge Diego Martin Rufino.
Jorge Diego Martin Rufino
Then: 2017 intern from University of Salamanca, Spain
Now: Ph.D. student, Harvard University
"The tremendously enriching experience at the HSCI decisively influenced me to start a Ph.D. at Harvard after finishing my medical degree in Spain, and to pursue a career as a physician scientist.”