Jennifer A. Sanders, PhD

Trailblazing Women

ASIP Highlights Session:
I Am An ASIP Member and This Is My Science

  • Experimental Biology 2019 – Orlando FL

Jennifer A. Sanders, PhD

Associate Professor
Departments of Pediatrics and Pathology and Laboratory Medicine,
Rhode Island Hospital, Brown University, Providence RI

The overall goal of my research program is to understand how cells process information from a wide range of stimuli to make context-specific decisions. In other words, how is it that cells know when and where to proliferate, how do they know when to stop and what biological functions they are supposed to perform. I’m fascinated by the process of how tissues develop and respond to injury and I’m really interested in understanding how cells grow, proliferate and differentiate. Throughout my career, I’ve used liver as a model system to try to understand these processes. Chronic liver disease and liver cancer are devastating illnesses that most often lead to liver failure and death. The only cure for patients with liver failure is transplantation.

My laboratory has been comparing and contrasting the signaling pathways and gene expression networks that regulate fetal liver development and liver regeneration to provide insight into the liver’s response to injury and dysregulated cell growth that occurs during the development of cancer. We use a variety of high-throughput methods to try to integrate the changes in cell signaling, chromatin structure and gene expression with changes in cell fate. If we can understand how hepatocyte proliferate and differentiation are regulated in healthy individuals then we can come up with new therapies for liver disease and cancer. One of the current projects in my laboratory is understanding the molecular mechanisms involved in liver ischemia-reperfusion injury. This is a new avenue of research for the lab that has been spearheaded by a very talented graduate student and now post-doc, Valerie Zabala. I invite you to view her poster featured in this session. 

I grew up in rural Pennsylvania and think my perspective may be a little different than others in the STEM field. I had limited access to basic research as an undergraduate and was naïve when it came to applying to graduate school. It wasn’t until I began my PhD studies at Brown University that I fully realized what doing science really entailed. I was lucky to be surrounded by excellent, supportive mentors. I completed my post-doc in Gastroenterology at Rhode Island Hospital and returned to Brown as an assistant professor in Pediatrics. Mentoring was critical to my development and success as a scientist. Because of that, as a post-doc and assistant professor I have contributed a lot of time to mentoring and advising students one on one, doing community outreach in elementary and high schools and teaching in Brown’s pre-college program. When I was a PhD student, there weren’t a lot of women in leadership positions or up on the podium at scientific conferences. I’m happy to be able to say that the face of science is changing and now that I am an associate professor and co-director of Brown’s pathobiology program it’s important to me that I can be a role model for the younger women and men in my laboratory and graduate program. I can’t think of a better job than coming into work and discovering new things and ways to solve problems. And to be able to create and foster that spark of creativity and excitement in others is one of the most rewarding experiences.