CSCI Member Spotlight Blog

Each month, the CSCI Trainee Council will feature one of the CSCI member labs, and learn about their focus.

September 2021: Meet the Wang Lab

Background:

What is the main focus of your lab?

Affiliated with the Columbia Center for Human Development (CCHD), the Columbia Stem Cell Initiative (CSCI), andHerbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center (HICCC), my lab wants to understand the molecular mechanisms underlying the stemness of totipotent, pluripotent, and cancer cells in development and disease. We employ both genomic and proteomic approaches combined with cellular and mouse models to dissect the regulatory layers encompassing transcriptional, post-transcriptional, translational, and post-translational mechanisms that control cell fate determination and reprogramming.

How long have you had your lab? When did you join Columbia University?

I have had my lab for 12 years now. My lab relocated to Columbia University in November 2019 from Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

How big is your lab currently?

Currently, there are two associate research scientists, five post-doctoral fellows in our lab.

Where is your lab located?

We are located at the William Black building on 8th floor, room 816 (along with two other labs within Columbia Center for Human Development).

Current affairs:

What are the most exciting projects/directions in the lab at this moment?

Previous and ongoing research projects in the lab encompass the following five areas:

1. Technique Development/Optimization for Stem Cell Proteomics.

2. Molecular Control of Stem Cell Pluripotency.

3. Molecular Control of Cell Reprogramming.

4. Molecular Control of Totipotency.

5. Stemness in Cancer.

What are the biggest accomplishments that your lab recently had?

This year my lab has published in reputed journals like Cell Stem Cell, Nature communications, Protein & Cell and have a few other manuscripts that are under peer review or are ready to be submitted within a few weeks. We are also thrilled to share our success in securing the funding from Department of Defense early this year.  

Technology:

What are the model systems that your lab is using? 

We have various mouse models on genes involved in early embryonic development, cancer development, and germ cell development as well as have generated transgenic mouse/human embryonic stem cell lines that we are happy to share with other labs.

What are the key techniques that your lab is using? Are you open to training scientists from other labs?

We are interested in employing biochemical approaches, in particular, affinity purification of protein complexes coupled with mass spectrometry (AP-MS) technology, for proteomic studies of pluripotent cells including embryonic stem cells (ESCs) and induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) of both mouse and human origin. We routinely perform genomics techniques like ChIP-seq, RNA-seq, ATAC-seq, eCLIP-seq, Ribosome/Polysome profiling for transcriptional and translational regulation of gene expression.

Yes, we are happy to train, collaborate and keen on joining forces to answer interesting scientific questions. Our recent collaborative project on sleep research is such an example of our motive to try something that is completely new to us.

What facilities or equipment does your lab absolutely rely upon? Do you use CSCI cores?

We often use the shared equipment at CSCI facility. Beyond the CSCI, we also use FACS, imaging, animals, and genomic facilities in the CCTI or Cancer Center.

 

Who shall be contacted with questions about equipment, resources and training?

Feel free to contact me; Jianlong Wang or our lab manager; Hongwei Zhou.

Training:

What's your best approach to mentoring trainees in the lab?

I believe that everyone has different strengths and weaknesses and I try to understand them in our initial meetings as well as over the time. While, I modify my training style according to each individual, I also have established a formal training experience for all of my trainees over the years of my simultaneous training as a mentor. I meet weekly in a one-on-one session with each of my trainees to review progress and plan the path going forward. These meetings mostly serve to be up-to-date with results, trouble-shoot experiments, fine-tune approaches, and brainstorm future directions. I also encourage my trainees to receive most technical training from other members of the laboratory, colleagues in neighboring laboratories, or elsewhere at our collaborators’ institutes.

Additionally, our lab has weekly group work-in-progress (WIP) meetings, where each member of the lab makes a semi-formal presentation on a rotating basis. The lab also participates in the formal group meetings/seminars including the weekly group WIP meetings at CCHD (The Columbia Center for Human Development), CSCI (Columbia Stem Cell Initiative) and HICCC (Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center) Journal Clubs. In each of these group meetings, every postdoctoral fellow or graduate student in my lab presents at least once a year. I also encourage my trainees to attend and present at various national and international meetings and help in the preparation and evaluation of the talks and posters for these venues.

Who were your most influential mentors/role models in science and what did you learn from them?

My postdoc advisor Dr. Stuart Orkin. I try my best to emulate him in running my own lab by doing the following three things: 1) Almost 24/7 accessibility to trainees; 2) staying calm/cool when facing successes and, more importantly, failures in science; and 3) keep on learning and growing in science

Can you recommend courses/lectures in Columbia University that would be most beneficial for students/postdocs?

I strongly recommend the following courses/lectures:

BMENE6510 (stem cells, genome engineering and regenerative medicine). Organized by Columbia Stem Cell Initiative (CSCI)

Cancer Cell Biology. Organized by Institute for Cancer Genetics (ICG)

What would be your career advice for students/postdocs?

For students: scientific thinking and troubleshooting skills are two key things you must master during your PhD studies.

For postdocs: be prepared for the hard work, long hours, and failures in science. You will have to be highly motivated, scientifically/socially collaborative, and physically/mentally strong in order to be successful in science. Simply put, no pain no gain!

Are you accepting rotating students at the moment?

Yes.

Lab management

How do members of your lab celebrate accomplishments?

Group lunches/dinners at restaurants and annual BBQ parties.

Does your lab have any fun traditions?

Annual summer BBQ, and pre-pandemic we also used to have members over to our house for parties. Hopefully, that all would resume soon.

What is the key to running a successful lab?

Open communication, fostering trainees, brainstorming, celebrating each and every accomplishments no matter how big or small they are.

What was the most exciting part about starting your new lab?

A lot of them; ranging from getting my own lab space to building up my team, starting to make collaborations, learning mentorship; looking at new data and giving feedback that would help in driving next set of experiments; and of course, winning the very first NIH grant.   

Stem Cell Directions:

What are the most important recent developments in the stem cell field?

Blastocyct-like structure generation from stem cells in lab to study human embryogenesis and disorders. Similarly, growing mouse embryo in an artificial womb to study the early development circumventing the ethical issues?

Which stem cell conferences does your lab attend?

ISSCR, Cold Spring Harbor Symposiums, Gordon Research Conferences

CSCI:

What was the main reason of you joining CSCI? What are the beneficial aspects of CSCI membership for your lab?

CSCI is like an umbrella with great resources, and research teams. Their regular seminars, trainee WIPs, members spotlights, happy hours, annual retreats are a few of many things that help to promote interaction among the community. It’s a big and great deal to regularly engage us in scientific as well as non-scientific activities.

What do you plan to bring to the CSCI community?

Our expertise in gene regulation control and stem cell pluripotency, spirit of teamwork, access to our research with my lab actively participating in different presentation platforms arranged by and for CSCI.

 

This blog is an initiative of CSCI Trainee Council. If you want to feature your lab, please contact Vikas.(vm2616@cumc.columbia.edu)