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Event Speakers 2017

Michelle Starz-Gaiano, Ph.D.

Associate Professor, Department of Biological Sciences
Graduate Program Director of Biological Sciences
University of Maryland, Baltimore County

Michelle Starz-Gaiano is an Associate Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at UMBC. Dr. Starz-Gaiano was born in Pittsburgh, PA, and earned her Bachelor’s degree in Biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. After working for two years at the MIT Center for Cancer Research with Dr. Jacqueline Lees, she joined the PhD program at New York University. There, she trained with Dr. Ruth Lehmann, studying lipid modifying enzymes that act as repellents to guide migrating cells during embryo development. After earning her doctorate in Developmental Genetics, she worked as an American Cancer Society postdoctoral fellow at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine with Dr. Denise Montell. With a continued interest in development, she identified and characterized several genes required for a cohort of cells to undergo coordinated movements. Dr. Starz-Gaiano joined the faculty of UMBC in the Department of Biological Sciences in 2008.

At UMBC, Dr. Starz-Gaiano’s research investigates the genetic mechanisms that control how cells make decisions during animal development. Identifying these key regulatory components is important not only for understanding basic cellular functions, but also for determining strategies to prevent disease progression. Her research group leverages the tools of Drosophila genetics to find new molecular signaling regulators, and complements this approach with biochemical, cell biological, and mathematical modeling strategies. The laboratory focuses on a well-conserved signaling cascade, the Janus Kinase (JAK) and Signal transducer and activator of transcription (STAT) pathway, which is best known for its roles in immune function. Dr. Starz-Gaiano is investigating how these signaling molecules instruct certain cells to migrate and others to be maintained as stem cells. Recent, interdisciplinary work suggests that tissue structure may have an unexpected influence on signaling. The Starz-Gaiano laboratory has been funded by the March of Dimes and a CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation. Dr. Starz-Gaiano was a National Academies Education Fellow in Science in 2014-2015, received the Donald Creighton Memorial Outstanding Faculty Award in 2014, and currently serves as Graduate Program Director of Biological Sciences.


Jeffrey Gross, Ph.D.

Professor of Ophthalmology & Developmental Biology
E. Ronald Salvitti Chair in Ophthalmology Research, and
Director of the Louis J. Fox Center for Vision Restoration
University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine

Jeff Gross received his B.S. in Biology in 1996 from the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, working with Dr. Phyllis Robinson for his undergraduate honors thesis. He received his Ph.D. in Cell and Molecular Biology in 2002 from Duke University, working with Dr. David McClay. For his postdoctoral training, Dr. Gross worked from 2002 – 2005 with Dr. John Dowling at Harvard University, and collaborated extensively with Dr. Nancy Hopkins at MIT.

In 2005, Dr. Gross started his independent laboratory at the University of Texas at Austin. Dr. Gross was promoted to Associate Professor with tenure in 2011, and to Full Professor in 2015. In 2012, Dr. Gross was appointed Associate Director of the Institute for Cellular and Molecular Biology, directing the Cell and Molecular Biology graduate program and the day to day activities of the Institute. Dr. Gross was recruited to the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine in August 2015, where he is appointed as the E. Ronald Salvitti Professor of Ophthalmology, and Director of the Louis J. Fox Center for Vision Restoration. Dr. Gross also serves as Vice Chair of the Department and Director of Research.

Dr. Gross’ research utilizes the zebrafish as a model system to identify fundamental processes required for ocular development, the mechanisms underlying ocular disorders and, most recently, the mechanisms underlying regeneration within the eye. His group also has interest in eye evolution and have developed the squid embryo as a model system to address this question. Dr.Gross’ research program has been supported through grants from the NIH, an NSF CAREER award, and grants from numerous private foundations. Dr. Gross is a passionate teacher and developed several courses while at the University of Texas at Austin including an inquiry-based laboratory courses in developmental biology, “The Nobel Prize”, “Pop-Culture Science”, and a semester long course called “Ph.D.s: What They Are, How Get Them and What Do You Do With One”. In 2012, he was one of seven recipients of the Regents Outstanding Teaching Award for outstanding and innovative teaching at Texas universities. He has mentored several M.S. and Ph.D. students, and over 40 undergraduates in his laboratory, nearly all of whom remain active in science and education pursuits.


Ruth Lehmann, Ph.D.

Laura and Isaac Perlmutter Professor of Cell Biology
HHMI Investigator
Director, Skirball Institute
Chair, Department of Cell Biology
New York University School of Medicine

Dr. Lehmann is an investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Laura and Isaac Perlmutter Professor of Cell Biology at NYU School of Medicine. Dr. Lehmann directs the Skirball Institute and the Helen and Martin Kimmel Center for Stem Cell Biology and is the Chair of the Department of Cell Biology at NYU School of Medicine. Her research focuses on germ cells, the only cells in the body able to give rise to a new generation.

Born in Cologne, Germany, Dr. Lehmann studied biology at the universities of Freiburg and Tübingen, Germany and Seattle, USA. She received her Ph.D. in the laboratory of noble laureate Dr. Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Genetics in 1985. After postdoctoral training at the Medical Research Council (MRC) in Cambridge, UK she joined the Whitehead Institute and the faculty of MIT in 1988. By cloning key genes involved in setting up head-to-tail polarity in the embryo and in directing RNA transport to one pole of the oocyte, the lab discovered that certain RNAs are translationally repressed during transport but become activated once localized. In 1996, Dr. Lehmann was recruited to the Skirball Institute at NYU School of Medicine. Here her lab expanded into the analysis of germ cell migration by showing how lipid signaling affects cell migration. Today, her lab uses systematic, unbiased genetic approaches and different imaging modalities in Drosophila to understand how germ cells are specified in the early embryo and how they maintain the potential for totipotency while differentiating into egg and sperm in the adult.

Dr. Lehmann is a member of the American Academy of Arts Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences. She was the 2011 recipient of the Conklin Medal of the Society of Developmental Biology and was elected Member of EMBO in 2012.