Current Title and Department: 4th year graduate student, Cell Biology of Disease PhD program
Current Employer:  URMC
Undergraduate Degree, University: BS Biochemistry, SUNY Geneseo
Graduate Degree, University: PhD Cell Biology of Disease (expected Spring 2022)
Past Employers: Bausch + Lomb, Ortho Clinical Diagnostics

Who have been your mentors?
I would never be where I am today without Alayna Loiselle. In 2015 I began as a temporary tech in Dr. Loiselle’s lab for what I thought would be a six-month stint. One year later I found myself a founding member of #teamtendon (follow us on twitter!) and with Dr. Loiselle’s encouragement and guidance I applied, and was accepted, to graduate school. I wasn’t sure if I was cut out for the PhD process at first, but my mentor was always there for me; to lend support through the setbacks and to celebrate the successes. I now find myself looking forward to securing a postdoc position and continuing the journey I began with Dr. Loiselle.

What project(s) are you looking forward to in the near future?
Despite the fact that one of my main hypotheses in my thesis proposal was incorrect, it’s led me in even more interesting directions. Originally I had hoped to define periostin as a more specific marker for activated myofibroblasts than α-SMA throughout tendon healing (as is seen in the heart). After some (a lot of) investigation, periostin appears to actually represent a distinct population of cells whose main role is secretion of periostin for integration into the surrounding ECM. In vitro experiments have confirmed that periostin can promote differentiation of tenocytes to myofibroblasts, pointing towards a potential role as a sort of myofibroblast niche in the context of acute tendon injury. I’ve recently bred my first cohort of mice for studying the effects of periostin cell depletion on healing outcomes, and I’m really interested to see if this will influence differentiation of tenocytes in vivo, which could make it a therapeutic target for fine-tuning the tendon healing process in human patients!

I’m also extremely excited to continue exploring the spatial transcriptomics data recently collected from our acute tendon injury and repair. It’s becoming apparent that the spatial localization of cell populations and signaling pathways during tendon healing may be more important than previously appreciated, and I can’t wait to see where this data leads next!

What has been the biggest challenge for you in your research?
As a student that has taken a non-traditional path (by taking a ten-year breather in between undergrad and grad school) its sometimes hard not to feel as if I’m ‘behind’ in my academic journey. But I think the life experiences I’ve obtained lend me a unique perspective towards my research and help me better relate to a wider spectrum of my peers. I am very grateful to have found the path I’m meant to be on, regardless of the number of turns it took to get here.

When do you do for fun outside of the lab?
I play flute in the Wind Symphony here at the U of R. At home I enjoy discovering, cooking, and tasting new recipes from around the globe. I like to pass the long western New York winters by getting out on the slopes for some downhill skiing (I picked the sport up again after a long break after an unpleasant experience involving an icy slope and poor braking skills!) – it’s the best kind of meditation 😊

Follow Me on Social Media!

Twitter Handle (personal or lab): @jackerman85, @LoiselleLab