Yong-Chao Ma, PhD
Assistant Professor, Departments of Pediatrics, Physiology and Neurology
Feinberg School of Medicine
Faculty, Developmental Biology
Children's Hospital of Chicago Research Center
My laboratory is interested in studying the differentiation of spinal motor neurons and ventral midbrain dopaminergic neurons in development and disease. We want to understand what genetic and epigenetic mechanisms are utilized to regulate motor neuron and dopaminergic neuron differentiation and why these specific types of neurons degenerate in spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) and Parkinson's disease, respectively. To address these questions, we use a combination of genetic, biochemical and cell biological approaches, and utilize genetically modified mice, induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells reprogrammed from fibroblasts, and embryonic chick neural tubes as model systems. Based on our findings, we develop new therapeutic strategies for treating SMA and Parkinson's disease.
My group is also interested in isolating and characterizing cancer stem cells from the nervous system by using genetic cell-lineage tracing approach, identifying defects that lead to the development of cancer stem cells, and developing novel models that are capable of interrogating the effect of therapeutics on cancer stem cells.