Postdoctoral Alumni - Lisa Sandell



Lisa Sandell
Assistant Professor, School of Dentistry at the University of Louisville
Louisville, Kentucky

For Lisa Sandell, the second time was the charm. In 2004, after completing her first postdoc at Princeton University studying gene transcription, she packed up a genetically engineered mouse she’d just created and headed to Stowers to dive into a new field, mouse embryology.

Sandell’s mouse carried a “reporter gene” allowing researchers to image the movements of embryonic cells called neural crest cells, which form most of the structures of the head and face, in living animals. “I looked around for the foremost neural crest lab in world and found Paul,” says Sandell, who first visited Stowers for what was supposed to be a brief training session with Investigator Paul Trainor. She then spent seven years as a senior research associate in his lab. “During that initial visit, we realized that if we combined his knowledge and expertise with my mouse we could do great experiments to understand how structures of the head and heart are formed.”

Their collaborations formed the basis of a mutagenesis screen she and Trainor conducted to identify genes essential for both craniofacial and cardiac development. Sandell’s first author 2007 Genes & Development paper identified that a gene encoding the enzyme RDH10 is essential for vitamin A metabolism, and was also necessary for proper face and limb development. In a 2011 Genesis study, one of four peer-reviewed papers Sandell published with Trainor that year, the group reported 10 more novel genes associated with craniofacial development that had been revealed by the screen.

In 2011 Sandell left Stowers (and a string of beloved Kansas City restaurants) to become assistant professor at the School of Dentistry at the University of Louisville. She remains focused on the role of vitamin A in craniofacial development and is using mouse mutants to study congenital birth defects affecting the ear, heart and limbs.

Sandell, who in 1994 earned her PhD at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the University of Washington studying telomere function in yeast, is deeply grateful to Stowers and Trainor, not only for equipping her with skills required to succeed in a new field, but also for supporting work as risky and expensive as a mouse genetic screen.

“The word I associate with Stowers is OPPORTUNITY,” she says, requesting that it be printed in capitals and bold. “Its physical environment, its core facilities, the collegiality--everyone is concerned with allowing and promoting research productivity. The way science happens at Stowers is, ideally, the way it should happen everywhere.”