Pei Wang, PhD

  • Recruited to: The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio
  • Recruited from: Stanford University School of Medicine
  • Award: First-Time, Tenure-Track Faculty Member

Dr. Pei Wang received her Ph.D. from the Department of Cellular and Molecular Biology at Baylor College of Medicine in 2004. She then joined Dr. Seung Kim’s laboratory in the Department of Developmental Biology at Stanford University School of Medicine and Howard Hughes Medical Institute for her postdoctoral training.

During her graduate studies in Dr. Hui Zheng’s lab, Dr. Wang investigated the developmental functions of genes implicated in Alzheimer’s disease genes.For example, she discovered that presenilins play a role in determining renal vesicle patterning in the developing mouse kidney through the Notch signaling pathway.Next, she investigated how amyloid precursor protein (APP) family proteins are involved in neural-muscular junction formation. The double mutant mice of APP and APP like protein 2 (APLP2) exhibited aberrant apposition of presynaptic marker proteins with postsynaptic acetylcholine receptors and excessive nerve terminal sprouting. The number of synaptic vesicles at presynaptic terminals is dramatically reduced. These structural abnormalities are accompanied by defective neurotransmitter release and a high incidence of synaptic failure. She identified APP/APLP2 as key regulators of structure and function of developing neuromuscular synapses.

After she finished her groundbreaking graduate work, she moved to Stanford University and joined Dr. Seung Kim’s laboratory. She was struck by the power of human embryonic stem cells (hESC) which in principle could generate all the cell types in the body. She dedicated her efforts to develop methods to study pancreas development and diseases using hESCs.  Dr. Wang generated new genetically-modified embryonic stem cell lines (both human and mouse), and 'knock-in' mice to study formation of endoderm, one of the germ layer which gives rise to internal organs including pancreas and liver. Investigating the development of inaccessible human tissues has been hindered by a lack of methods for marking and isolating specific cells. To circumvent this limitation, Dr. Wang used homologous recombination in hESCs to generate reporter lines with an enhanced green fluorescent protein (eGFP) transgene inserted into a locus encoding a postulated marker of human endoderm, SOX17. This allowed her to make the exciting discovery of novel cell surface proteins that allowed FACS-based isolation of primitive gut tube endodermal cells produced from unmodified hESCs and from induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC). Her research approach using genetic targeting, prospective isolation, lineage tracing, and developmental studies of hESCs has revealed fundamental aspects of human endodermal biology.

At The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, Dr. Wang will use her expertise in  mouse  and human ES cell gene targeting and genetics, pancreas development, histological assessment, signal transduction, and disease pathogenesis to study pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC), one of the most aggressive and deadly human malignancies.  She will build a set of novel genome editing tools that allow her to inactivate multiple signaling pathways in a controlled temporal and sequential manner. The immediate goals are: 1) to understand the basis for tumor heterogeneity, 2) to establish methods for genetically engineering human pancreatic cells, 3) to identify tumor initiating cells, and 4) to characterize the molecular properties of TICs. Her long-term goals are to identify markers and methods for early diagnosis of PDAC and to inform the development of effective therapeutic strategies. In addition to her funding from CPRIT, Dr. Wang also received a prestigious “Rising Star Award” from the UT system. She will participate primarily in the education of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows.