Jenny Phillips, PhD
Position title: Cellular Dynamics, International
BA 1998, Biology, University of Dallas, Irving, TX
PhD 2001, Vision Science, University of Houston, Houston, TX
Postdoctoral Fellowship 2011-2014, Ophthalmology/Pathology, UW-Madison, Madison, WI
As a postdoctoral researcher in Dr. Donna Peters laboratory, Jenny Phillips investigated the role(s) of integrins in mediating phagocytosis in human trabecular meshwork (TM) cells. TM cells modulate aqueous humor outflow along with the Schlemm’s canal. Accumulation of cellular or extracellular debris in the TM region can obstruct outflow and elevate intraocular pressure (IOP), a condition frequently observed in patients with glaucoma. Phagocytosis is thought to play an important role in maintaining normal IOP levels by clearing debris. Dr. Phillips studies showed that activation of the αvβ5 integrin/FAK signaling pathway mediates phagocytosis in TM cells. Furthermore, they showed that activation of the αvβ3 integrin, an integrin previously implicated in the formation of cross-linked actin-networks (CLANS) found in glaucomatous TM tissue and steroid-treated cells, inhibits αvβ5 integrin-mediated phagocytosis. This was the first study to show the signaling pathway by which phagocytosis occurs in TM cells.
After joining Dr. David Gamm’s lab as a postdoctoral research associate, Dr. Phillips began learning to use stem cells as a tool to study retinal cell development and retinal degenerative diseases (RDD). Her first project involves screening, expanding and characterizing human induced pluripotent stem cell lines derived patients with choroideremia, an inherited RDD. She has also applied her background and expertise towards the investigation of integrins and their extracellular matrix (ECM) binding partners during the development of retinal cells derived from human pluripotent stem cells. ECM proteins provide necessary scaffold for cells during development through integrin-mediated adhesions, but these associations also impact cellular processes during development, like cell proliferation, differentiation and survival. Elucidating the expression profiles of integrins and ECM proteins during different stages of development will improve our understanding of the developing human retina and provides guidance for the manipulation of culture techniques in order to direct cells to a desired fate.