UW-Stout News Story

Applied science graduate involved in cutting-edge research

February 1, 2012

When Elizabeth Faust enrolled at University of Wisconsin-Stout as a freshman, she was all set on her major. Or so she thought. Shortly after reaching campus, she changed her mind.

“I switched right away to applied science when I realized how great of a program it really is,” Faust said.

For Faust, it was the right choice. After graduating in May 2011 and interning last summer at the prestigious National Institutes of Health, she is thrilled with the job she landed and the career she has begun — doing cutting-edge work as a research specialist for Cellular Dynamics International in Madison.

Faust is part of a company that is taking stem cell research and application in a new direction. The issue of using stem cells is controversial because historically they have been harvested from human embryos. CDI, however, transforms cells isolated from blood or skin into embryoniclike stem cells.

“It’s really fascinating work. I love it,” said Faust, who grew up in Oconomowoc.

The cells created by CDI are called induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells. The process for creating them was discovered about five years ago. While more research is needed before pluripotent stem cells can be used to treat humans, CDI makes and sells them to researchers for modeling diseases and to help pharmaceutical companies make drugs safer, cheaper and faster.

“We’re finding a way around the issue of using embryonic stem cells,” said Faust. “We manipulate the conditions so we tell the cell what we want it to become, such as a stem cell or neuron.”

Her job is to improve the generation of iPS cells from multiple types of tissues to make the technology less invasive for donors and more desirable and accessible to collaborators and other institutions. As part of her job she has isolated cells from blood and worked with the process of growing cells, although she continues to be trained in some aspects of the position, she said.

CDI was co-founded by James Thomson, the UW-Madison School of Medicine professor who is credited with the breakthrough on embryonic stem cells and, later, the pluripotent stem cells discovery.

The company can make the cells from an individual. Eventually, this could be valuable for regenerating tissue in that person or to help prevent rejection in the case of a transplant.

Faust is one of about 100 employees at CDI. Two others also are UW-Stout applied science graduates, both from 2008, Jeff Grinager and Becky Valaske. For more information on CDI go to http://www.cellulardynamics.com.

Building for success

Faust is doing what she dreamed of — working in regenerative medicine — but isn’t surprised she reached that path so quickly. She could see that dream becoming closer to reality with each year of experience in the applied science program.

For three years, she worked in the Genomics Technology Access Center at UW-Stout led by Michael Pickart, chair of the biology department. She grew skin cells and did other research in GTAC, which includes tissue culture, genomics and zebrafish labs.

“A lot of the things I do on a daily basis at CDI I’ve already done at Stout. I already had a basic understanding of everything. I learned a lot at Stout,” Faust said.

Faust landed two sought-after internships. Her 2011 spring semester was spent in the lab of UW-Madison Professor Robert Blank doing research on genetic mutations related to congenital vertebral malformations.

Faust’s postgraduation NIH internship last summer in Bethesda, Md., was in the lab of Dr. Vincent Hearing doing research on melanoma and skin melanocyte biology using tissue-engineered skin. The NIH, the nation’s medical research agency, is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and is considered one of the world’s leading medical research centers.

“Both of my internships solidified all of the lessons I learned at Stout and put them into a real-world perspective,” she said, crediting Pickart for helping her land the internships because of his similar research focuses and professional associations.

Pickart saw Faust’s potential as a student. “Elizabeth is a rare individual who uniquely combines a drive for excellence while not losing patience with herself and others. I believe this particular trait more than any other has allowed her to excel beyond the capacity of her peers.”

Faust is glad she pursued the applied science degree at UW-Stout, Wisconsin’s Polytechnic University. The faculty-to-staff ratio is small and she benefited greatly from the lab-based courses and lab access, she said.

For more information in the UW-Stout applied science program, go to http://www.uwstout.edu/programs/bsas/.

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