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Zdravka Cankova, M.S. 

Ph.D. Student, Biomedical Engineering
M.S. Biomedical Engineering, Northwestern University 2011
B.S. Biomedical Engineering, Illinois Institute of Technology 2007

Contact: zdravkacankova2008 at u.northwestern.edu

Research Interests: stem cell differentiation, vascular disease

Induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells have the ability to differentiate into any cell type in the body, which makes them an ideal source for a variety of cell-based tissue engineering applications. One major safety concern stems from the fact that these undifferentiated cells have the tendency to spontaneously form teratomas – tumors containing partially differentiated embryonic tissues, upon implantation. Therefore, complete differentiation of these cells has to be carried out in vitro under carefully controlled conditions in order to produce a high yield of terminally differentiated cells prior to implantation. The long-term goal of this project is to direct the differentiation of iPS cells in order to produce functional autologous vascular cells for cell-based tissue-engineering therapies. A good understanding of the interactions between the stem cell and its environment is required to accomplish this goal. Current iPS differentiation strategies focus on control via a defined soluble medium, while little is known about the effect of surface-bound ligands on this process. We hypothesize that precise control over surface chemistry can be used to enhance directed iPS cell differentiation, and potentially minimize the immunogenicity of the resulting cells. To evaluate this hypothesis, we are studying the effects of controlled surface presentation of the RGD adhesion ligand on iPS cell differentiation and immunogenicity. Successful completion of these studies would allow us to design stem-cell niche directed therapies aimed at maximizing the yield of lineage-specific cells while maintaining low immunogenicity. Accomplishing this goal will contribute toward establishing vascular cell sources that can be used to improve current treatments of cardiovascular disease.

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