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Postdoc Spotlight: Sherri Biendarra-Tiegs

Dr. Sherri Biendarra-Tiegs is a second-year postdoctoral scholar working in the lab of Dr. Steve George within the Biomedical Engineering Department. She completed her PhD in Biomedical Sciences- Molecular Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics at the Mayo Clinic Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences in 2019.

What has been your professional journey that led you to a postdoc at UC Davis?

While I was completing my undergraduate degree in BioMolecular Engineering at Milwaukee School of Engineering, I had the valuable opportunity to participate in research programs at several different institutions. I really enjoyed those experiences and decided I wanted to delve more deeply into the biomedical sciences. I chose to pursue a PhD within the Molecular Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics track at the Mayo Clinic, which was a very exciting environment for translational research. My thesis lab focused on studying the congenital heart defect Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome and developing cell-based therapies for those patients. Primarily, my thesis project involved characterizing the development and maturation of human-induced pluripotent stem cell-derived cardiomyocytes and understanding the impact of external factors on their electrophysiological phenotypes.

In the final year of my graduate studies, I learned of a postdoc opportunity in the George Lab within the Biomedical Engineering Department at UC Davis. The George Lab focuses largely on the use of organ-on-a-chip technologies and computational modeling to study a variety of tissues/diseases, including cardiac tissue. I was looking to relocate to Northern California because my husband had already moved to Silicon Valley for his work, and the lab seemed like a great fit. I saw the postdoc as an excellent opportunity to integrate my previous training in bioengineering, pharmacology, and stem cell biology while learning additional skills relevant to disease modeling and drug development.

What is your area of research focus?

My research activities have focused on studying factors, such as inflammation and modulation of transcription factors, which may contribute to the development of abnormal cardiac electrophysiology and the pathogenesis of atrial fibrillation. It has been exciting for me to expand my cardiac research focus to also gain some exposure to immunology over the past year and a half. In my postdoc I am still utilizing human induced pluripotent stem cell-derived cardiomyocytes, although my work now involves the creation of cells with properties more similar to those in the atrial chambers of the heart. I am additionally developing novel approaches to interrogate phenotypes of interest using these cardiomyocytes. When on-campus research activities shut down last year, I was able to use that opportunity to develop those approaches via computational modeling prior to implementation in the lab. Like many labs, mine also shifted towards some COVID-19 research in the past year, so one project I am currently contributing to involves modeling SARS-CoV-2 initiated cytokine storm in vitro and testing a drug to potentially mitigate its cardiac effects.

What are your long-term career goals?

I am sure my goals will continue to be refined as I move forward in my career, but throughout my training, a common thread is that I wish to facilitate the development and commercialization of products to improve human health and drive innovation for the ultimate benefits of patients. I have a long-standing fascination with how scientific ideas move from the lab into the creation of medical products used in people’s daily lives, and I am looking forward to opportunities to continue to learn about that complex and multi-faceted process.

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

This is my first time living on the West Coast, so my husband and I have really enjoyed taking day or weekend trips to see new places in California. I especially like hiking and learning more about the history of the region—for example, the California Gold Rush. When I’m at home, I love cooking (one of my favorites is pasta from scratch) and spending time with my two cats. Additionally, I play the violin and joined the West Sacramento Community Orchestra upon moving to the area. After everything shut down due to COVID-19, I participated in the UC Davis Symphony Orchestra Virtual Orchestra Project as well. I also enjoy pursuing additional professional development opportunities beyond my research, which have included an officer role in the UC Davis Postdoctoral Scholars Association, a technology transfer internship with UC Davis InnovationAccess, and volunteer life science consulting engagements through Biotech Connection- Bay Area.

What has your experience been so far, being an officer of the Postdoctoral Scholars Association (PSA)? What is your advice for PSA moving forward?

I have been very grateful for the opportunity to be involved with the PSA as both secretary and treasurer for the last year. It has been both challenging and rewarding to help promote the professional development and overall wellbeing of UC Davis postdocs through an entirely virtual setting. Yet the need for postdocs to build professional and social connections outside of our immediate lab groups or departments is of particular importance now. Despite the fact that I have yet to meet any of my fellow PSA officers in person, we have successfully organized a variety of events including a career panel, networking event, and an entirely virtual Postdoctoral Research Symposium, continue to offer “Travel” Awards to virtual conference attendees, and have collaborated with Graduate Studies on additional events and activities to support postdocs.  As our campus continues to move towards a gradual re-opening, I think it will be important for the PSA to take advantage of what we have learned in this past year about virtual programming to experiment with a mix of in-person and virtual events. While in-person interactions are certainly very valuable, some virtual events may increase accessibility for the busy postdoc population.