Undergraduate Research Program

Ruby Padgett

Ruby smiling for cameraMajor: Public Health
Mentor: Elaheh Karbassi, Department of Pathology

Contact: padger@uw.edu

Current research project: Investigating the Role of PGC1B in Stem Cell-Derived Cardiomyocyte Maturation Using a CRISPR Activation System


Ruby is a senior majoring in Public Health at the University of Washington. She is interested in combining public health work with science and medicine to develop better prevention strategies and potential therapeutics that are affordable (or free) and accessible to all people, especially underserved and vulnerable populations. She is passionate about making the transition to college less daunting for fellow students through tutoring and being a mentor. Now, she is looking forward to having a role in increasing access to undergraduate research opportunities as an Undergraduate Research Leader.


Translate your work so that we can all understand its importance
A major part of my research project is taking human pluripotent stem cells (which can become any cell in the body) and making them into cardiomyocytes (hPSC-CMs) through a process called differentiation. A limitation of these cells is that they are immature, meaning they differ structurally and metabolically from adult cells. This limits the ability to use these cardiomyocytes for cell transplantation purposes that would help repair the heart after someone has had a heart attack. My lab has identified certain genes that more mature cardiomyocytes have. I have helped generate a stem cell line with a CRISPR activation (CRISPRa) system to upregulate these genes after the addition of guide RNAs (gRNAs) and am currently working on characterizing the expression and activity of the CRISPRa in hPSC-CMs. My project goal is to use the CRISPRa system to activate transcription for the PPARG coactivator 1 beta (PGC1B) gene, one of the genes associated with maturation. PGC1B is a master regulator of mitochondrial biogenesis, which is a process that increases in maturing cardiomyocytes. I hypothesize that activated transcription for PGC1B will enhance maturation of hPSC-CMs by causing mitochondrial biogenesis to occur in the cardiomyocytes.


When, how, and why did you get involved in undergraduate research?
I became involved in undergraduate research first in a program called Teach Lab through the Health Sciences Center Minority Students Program the summer after my freshman year. This gave me an amazing opportunity to learn common laboratory techniques, work alongside mentors, and improve my presentation skills. My sophomore year, I joined the Murry Lab. I was interested in this lab because the scientists there worked with beating heart cells in a dish, and I knew that was something I wanted to learn more about/be involved with. Coming into college, I wanted to explore what doing research in science could look like, so I started looking for opportunities as soon as I had adjusted to taking classes and felt like I could handle the commitment.


What advice would you give a student who is considering getting involved in undergraduate research?
It is normal to send many emails to labs and follow up if you don’t get a response the first time, just be persistent and patient. Always advocate for yourself and know that you are deserving of mentorship and research opportunities, and if your lab doesn’t give you that right away, don’t be afraid of asking, and switch labs if they are unwilling to do that for you. You can have many interests and your research doesn’t have to be associated with your major, pursue what you are interested in even if people question you. Most importantly, there is a spot for you in research and you should try it out because it is so worth it and also teaches you a lot about life.