Each year, the Vilcek Foundation honors foreign-born scientists and artists who have “made outstanding contributions to society in the United States.” Among this year’s award recipients is Joanna Wysocka, PhD, whose path from Eastern Europe to Stanford is outlined in a nice write-up on the foundation’s website. (“The day the Berlin Wall came down, the world opened up for Joanna Wysocka,” is how it begins.) The piece also describes her jump from the field of chromatin biology to stem cell biology:
Veering from the safe path, along which lay her postdoctoral projects, Dr. Wysocka decided instead to apply her expertise in chromatin biology to stem cell biology. Within three years, “the gamble paid off,” she says, confirmed by her receipt of the 2010 Outstanding Young Investigator Award from the International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR). The shift also took her out of the lab and directly into the controversy over stem cell research. “Given the circumstances in which I grew up,” she explains, “I am passionate about personal, scientific, and academic freedom,” adding “it is our obligation as scientists to educate and engage the public, and to remain guardians of liberty in pursuing scientific ideas.”
Dr. Wysocka’s own scientific ideas are many and varied, and together with her interdisciplinary group, her research has already led to the discovery of novel and crucial insights into cell fate and lineage. Going forward, she plans to address the question of human diversity. Her approach will be, quite literally, head-on, as she intends to use as a model the human face—“The face is at the center of our identity…yet we know next to nothing about the genetic basis of human facial variation.” The Associate Professor is also working on CHARGE syndrome, a devastating childhood developmental disorder.
Previously: Stem cell ruling throws Stanford researcher’s project into limbo, Stanford researcher wins Outstanding Young Investigator Award from international stem cell society and Nomadic cells may hold clues to cancer’s spread