Julia Ganz, PhD
Assistant Professor, Integrative Biology
Ph.D., 2009, Dresden University of Technology, Germany
The goal of my research is to understand how stem cells generate a diverse and complex nervous system in vertebrates using zebrafish as my model system. My lab addresses this question focusing on the largest parts of the peripheral nervous system – the enteric nervous system (ENS). Zebrafish is an excellent model system to study ENS development due to their rapid development, genetic and embryological tractability, and optical transparency, which makes them very well-suited for in vivo imaging. The regulation of neuronal and glial differentiation in the ENS is poorly understood. Research in my lab strives to answer the following questions: are there distinct enteric progenitor populations and if so, do they generate different subtypes of neurons and/or glia? Which signaling pathways and genes regulate ENS development? My laboratory will identify novel genes regulating ENS development and determine their function to generate a comprehensive view of the regulation of ENS differentiation processes. Zebrafish have an unparalleled ability to regenerate their nervous system, and thus are very well-suited as a model to study regeneration. We will investigate whether the zebrafish ENS can regenerate after experimental ablation of subsets of enteric neurons or glia. And if so, how is this regeneration process regulated? This work will reveal whether specific stem cell populations might be responsible for regenerative capabilities and if they could be employed for therapeutic approaches.
Work in my laboratory will answer the fundamental question of cell lineage relationships in the ENS and how generation of these cell lineages is regulated during normal development, in situations that model human disease, and under regenerating conditions. I expect that we will uncover not only cellular, genetic, and molecular mechanisms underlying cell fate determination, but also contribute to developing therapeutic approaches using stem cells to repair enteric nervous system diseases.