Rice research associate wins prestigious fellowship

Rice University postdoctoral research associate Idse Heemskerk for one of this year’s Society in Science Branco Weiss Fellowship.
Rice University postdoctoral research associate Idse Heemskerk for one of this year’s Society in Science Branco Weiss Fellowship. | File photo

The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich recently selected Rice University Postdoctoral Research Associate Idse Heemskerk for one of this year’s Society in Science Branco Weiss Fellowship, supporting his work on a quantitative understanding of embryonic development.

“We have very broad questions about embryonic development that are not accessible in animal models, but we can access them with stem cells because it is easier to image them and manipulate their environment,” Heemskerk said. “The first step in making a human body out of pluripotent cells in the embryo — cells that can become anything — is the differentiation of the cells into lineages that organize themselves into three different layers, a process called gastrulation.

Heemskerk plans to test if human gastrulation is controlled in the way that researchers currently believe, which is based on fly gastrulation. The theory, however, has not been adequately tested in mammals up to this point. The fellowship will provide for up to five years of his research with a grant of approximately $500,000.

“Idse has made the transition from a theory background to testing that theory with stem cells remarkably quickly,” Rice Bioscientist Aryeh Warmflash, whose lab Heemskerk works in, said. “He is now poised to attack long-standing questions in developmental biology with these systems, and this award recognizes the promise of that research as well as Idse’s really strong accomplishments in theoretical biology in the past.”

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