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.”