Dr. Michelle Ward
Michelle Ward, Ph.D.Assistant Professor, Department Biochemistry and Molecular Biology


Contact Information:
Phone: (409) 772-2291
Email: miward@utmb.edu

Link to Website

2006 B.Sc. in Biochemistry & Microbiology, University of Cape Town, South Africa
2007 B.Sc.(Hons) in Medical Biochemistry, University of Cape Town, South Africa
2009 M.Sc. in Medical Biochemistry, University of Cape Town, South Africa
2013 Ph.D. in Medical Sciences, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom
2020 Postdoc in Human Genetics, University of Chicago, USA

Research Interests:
The Ward Lab is interested in understanding the mechanisms of global transcriptional regulation, and the control of tissue-specific gene expression in the context of cardiovascular development, stress and disease. Some of the questions we are interested in include:
How does the same DNA sequence in virtually every cell in the body give rise to a diversity of tissue types?
How is the genome able to respond to perturbations in the environment?
What makes a genome susceptible or resistant to disease?
Ultimately, how does the genome encode a multitude of different phenotypes?

A clue comes from the fact that the majority of the human genome is non-coding. Regulatory regions, within non-coding DNA sequence, have been shown to direct the correct spatial and temporal expression of genes. Indeed, the impact of non-coding DNA sequence has been highlighted through genotype-phenotype associations, and the study of complex traits and disease. One such disease is cardiovascular disease (CVD), which results from many contributing genetic and environmental factors. However, disentangling the effects of multiple genetic loci associated with a human phenotype, and the effect of the environment, is challenging. The ability to generate induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) from easily accessible human tissue, differentiate these cells into relevant cell types, and subject them to directed perturbations, provides a powerful system to dissect the relationship between genotype and phenotype.

The goal of the Ward lab is to dissect the global role of regulatory elements in directing gene expression in healthy, stressed and disease states in CVD-relevant cell types. We use a combination of induced pluripotent stem cell technology, functional genomics, evolutionary biology and genetics approaches to tackle this problem.


Selected Publications: 

  1. Ward, M.C.# and Gilad, Y.# A generally conserved response to hypoxia in iPSC-derived cardiomyocytes from humans and chimpanzees. eLife (2019) doi.org/10.7554/eLife.42374.
  2. Ward, M.C.#, Zhao, S., Luo, K., Pavlovic, B.J., Karimi, M.K., Stephens, M., Gilad, Y#. Silencing of transposable elements may not be a major driver of regulatory evolution in primate iPSCs. eLife (2018) doi.org/10.7554/eLife.33084.
  3. Ward, M.C.*, Wilson, M.D.*, Barbosa-Morais, N.L., Schmidt, D., Stark, R., Pan, Q., Schwalie, P.C., Menon, S., Lukk, M., Watt, S., Thybert, D., Kutter, C., Kirschner K., Flicek, P., Blencowe, B.J. and Odom, D.T. Latent regulatory potential of human-specific repetitive elements.  Molecular Cell (2013) 49(2):262-272.
  4. Schwalie, P.C.*, Ward, M.C.*, Cain, C.E., Faure, A.J., Gilad, Y., Odom, D.T. and Flicek, P. Co-binding by YY1 identifies the transcriptionally active, highly conserved set of CTCF-bound regions in primates. Genome Biology (2013) 14(12):R148.
  5. Ward, M.C., van der Watt, P. J., Tzoneva, G. and Leaner, V.D. Deregulated LAP2α expression in cervical cancer associates with aberrant E2F and p53 activities. IUBMB Life (2011) 63, 1018-1026.