MDI Biological Laboratory

This Is Why: Inspiring Future Discoveries

  • November 1, 2017

The following profile of REGEN2017 student Susannah Kassmer, Ph.D., appears in the fall edition of the MDI Biological Laboratory’s “Breaking Through” magazine, which focuses on how the study of highly regenerative animal models can help science understand the potential for regeneration in humans. Read the entire edition.

“I wanted to interact with a community of scientists studying regeneration and that’s what’s happened here. It’s been a real bonding experience.”

– Susannah Kassmer, Ph.D.

Susannah Kassmer, Ph.D., has spent the last four years studying how bone marrow stem cells from the mouse differentiate into mature lung tissue. Her research was an outgrowth of studies showing that bone marrow stem cells can differentiate into lung, heart, liver and other types of cells, which raised the possibility that stem cells could be transplanted into humans to treat disease. But recently Kassmer switched from studying stem cells in mice to studying highly regenerative animals. This interest prompted her to enroll in REGEN2017, a signature course in comparative regenerative biology at the MDI Biological Laboratory. “Transplantation of stem cells into damaged organs has not achieved the improvements we were hoping for,” she says, reflecting the MDI Biological Laboratory’s view that the study of highly regenerative species is the key to realizing the transformative potential of regenerative medicine. Kassmer, 38, who earned her doctorate in immunology in her native Germany, would like to head her own lab some day. Because she believes in the need to study a variety of animals that have the ability to regenerate, her goal is to develop the molecular tools to use the sea squirt, or colonial ascidian, as a research model. “The colonial ascidian has a lot to teach us,” she says. The colorful undersea creature is the only chordate (the phylum, or category of organisms, that also includes humans) that can regenerate its entire body from only a few cells. “The more we know about how different species regenerate,” Kassmer says, “the more we know about how humans can regenerate. That’s why this work is so important.”