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2014 Winner - Shangqin Guo



“Understanding the Rules”

Shangqin Guo, Ph.D., is the recipient of the 2014 STEM CELLS Young Investigator Award. Each year the award is presented to a young scientist who serves as principal author of a significant research paper published in the journal.

The paper that earned Dr. Guo this recognition is “Dynamic Migration and Cell-Cell Interactions of Early Reprogramming Revealed by High Resolution Time-Lapse Imaging,” published in STEM CELLS’ May 2013 issue. It describes a live cell imaging approach for studying the process of Yamanaka reprogramming at single cell resolution. It also reports on the unexpected dynamic behaviors associated with early reprogramming and explores how such behaviors could compromise conventional experimental designs and interfere with data interpretation.

STEM CELLS editor-in-chief Dr. Jan A. Nolta commented that the “use of the imaging and new technology in this study is truly elegant.” 

Dr. Guo is currently an assistant professor in the Department of Cell Biology at Yale University. Her lab at the Yale Stem Cell Center focuses on learning the cell fate decision processes including how does a cell know what to be and what not to be?

Click here to read the best papers from our 2014 Young Investigators.

SC talked with her shortly after she learned of her Young Investigator Award to learn more about her work and what drives her.

SC:  What hypothesis were you testing in the research described in your paper?

GUO: Like many others, we are intrigued by the process of Yamanaka reprogramming where a terminally differentiated cell can revert back to a pluripotent state. This process is highly inefficient – very few cells can successfully make the reversion. We wanted to “see” how these few cells manage to make the reversion and figure out what is special about them.

Video footage of Dr. Guo's study from Yale University on Vimeo.

SC:  Why is investigating this hypothesis important to stem cell research?

GUO: If we can understand the rules — how cell A makes the decision to remain as cell A, or change into cell B or C — we will have the knowledge to derive the cell types needed for medicine and research. The understanding of these rules is rather rudimentary at the moment. 

SC:  Briefly outline the approach you used to test your hypothesis.

GUO: We put together a system to visualize the entire reprogramming process with sufficient resolution. This involves finding the right cell type, the right microscope, the right cell culture dish, etc., and writing some of the codes to handle the images after the experiment.

SC:  Was there a specific methodological technique important to these studies?

GUO: Yes. Our paper essentially is the description of the imaging technique and what could be seen right away with this approach.

SC:  What does this mean for stem cell biology and its application?

GUO:  Even if a cell-fate changing process is slow and/or inefficient, we might have a way to see it with good resolution. The cell fate change process could be full of surprises if you could see it with detail and continuity.

SC:  What's the best scenario that you would like to see come out of your study?

GUO:  That we can help in deriving the rules of how cells decide to maintain or alter their identity.

SC:  Let’s turn the spotlight on you for a bit: Why did you choose to go into stem cell research?

GUO: I earned my Ph.D. at Boston University, where I focused on studying what’s behind breast cancer. I was struck by the similarities between stem cells and cancer and, after five years of studying breast cancer, I felt drawn to learning more about stem cells and to understanding new cell types. So I refocused my work on that.

SC:  Can you talk about your training, any mentors who might have influenced you and what motivates you today? 

GUO: I’m grateful for all my past and current mentors: Drs. Gail Sonenshein and Katya Ravid during my Ph.D studies; Dr. David Scadden during my postdoctoral training; and now Drs. Diane Krause, Haifan Lin and Jim Rothman. They kept me on the right track, and I will try my best to stay on the track of doing good work.

I’m also grateful for my long time collaborator Dr. Jun Lu for always sharing his insights and expertise.

Seeing cells as they make different choices is like having a conversation directly with the cells — I’m trying to understand them better.  And it does not take much to be motivated! I have a group of dedicated young scientists who share the same passion about understanding the cells’ fate decision process. It’s been fun and I enjoy it thoroughly.

SC:  Is there anything else that you think is important to bring up about your paper, your work and what you think should happen next?

GUO: We are trying to further improve our imaging system so that we could see better with more details. I hope more people will be interested in what we could see so that more collaborative research could be initiated in the near future.

SC:  Why did you select the journal STEM CELLS to publish your paper?

GUO: It is a great journal for the stem cell field. I feel fortunate that STEM CELLS recognized the value of our work and is continuing to do so by giving me this award.

SC:  How do you think the Young Investigator Award might affect your career?

GUO: This could only help. For someone who is just starting off, this provides a sense of reassurance, recognition and gratification. Of course, the cash that comes with the award is extra nice.