Sasha

About 

I'm Jasmin and I love dogs. I was born and raised in Jerusalem, where I spent my time either in school, at the beach in Herzliya, or playing tennis. I left to the United States when I was 16, where I attended the United World College in New Mexico (UWC-USA) and had the time of my life. I had never imagined a place with such beautiful skies. I then went to the University of Pennsylvania, where I studied chemical engineering, fell in love with Parc's bread, and experienced the painful joy of an 'all-nighter'. In my last year at Penn, I worked with Prof. Gorte and his graduate student at the time, Kevin Bakhmutsky. It was a very rewarding research experience under great mentorship, so I applied for graduate school. I've been at Princeton since 2012, still under great mentorship in the Shvartsman Lab.

Research

I am currently working on the Drosophila egg chamber, which is a multicellular structure, and a precursor to the oocyte. It's a great system for understanding a lot of basic biological phenomena, but I'm mainly interested in understanding collective and emergent behaviors that arise in small multicellular systems. Specifically, I'm looking into the dynamics of collective growth on a small lineage tree and the diversity of 3D configurations thereof.

  • On Growth

In Drosophila, oocytes develop within a multicellular structure comprising 16-cell germ cells and an overlying layer of epithelial cells. The germ cells (1 oocyte and 15 nurse cells) are stereotypically connected by membranous bridges that allow intercellular communication and transport. Throughout oogenesis, the nurse cells experience a dramatic increase in size, become polypoid, and produce whatever the oocyte and future embryo require for growth. The causes underlying one of the most interesting observations of nurse cell growth has remained unsolved. Namely, the initial seemingly uniform distribution of cell sizes becomes increasingly polarized as oogenesis proceeds, with the cells most adjacent to the oocyte nearly double the size of those furthest away. Studies of mutants suggest a connection between distance from the oocyte and nurse cell growth, however, confounding factors exist. We ask, can a simple model of interconnected cells that allows for growth and exchange of cellular components, explain the observed growth trajectories of nurse cells and oocytes in developing egg chambers? This work was recently presented at an EMBO workshop on cell size regulation. 

  • On Packing 

Packing problems are pervasive, from the stacking of oranges at the grocer's and Guinness casks on a ship, to the formation of honeycombs, and self assembly of viral protein coats. Since Kepler, people have been interested  in coming up with principles that account for the observed packing configurations of infinite and finite collections of spherical and non-spherical objects. Similarly, we're interested in describing and understanding the packing configurations of the 16 cells comprising the Drosophila egg chamber, and in coming up with 'packing principles' that explain our observations. Using both experimental and computational approaches, we've enumerated and characterized the complete set of permissible packing configurations, and their relative frequency. To do so, we relied on z-stacks of labelled egg chambers, and uniquely mapped their 3D structure onto the various configurations of the ring canal tree. In doing so, we reduced high dimensional data to a 1D descriptor that captures most of the cells' spatial organization. This study emphasizes the indispensability of insightful visualization and abstraction techniques to pattern extraction. 

This idea of using low dimensional representation of multidimensional data to extract patterns was featured in a Nature news and views showcasing transformative techniques and toolboxes for visualizing biology.

I also had the opportunity to present at a conference / workshop on visualization biological data (VIZBI) in Heidelberg this year, where participants were invited to submit an artistically inspired picture related to their work. Stas, my advisor, had earlier sent me an image of Picasso's series of lithographies, titled Bull, depicting .... a bull at various stages of abstraction. The first image was of a 'meaty' bull, and the last, was just a collection of lines that were still unmistakably a bull. The analogy with our work was unavoidable: despite reducing the 3D image of an egg chamber to collection of nodes and edges, the resulting tree captured the essence of that egg chamber's spatial organization, i.e. the 'spirit of the beast'. I therefore created this montage showing a few of Picasso's sequential reductionist lithographs, and our own series of images. The idea was not draw direct comparisons, but to use well known pieces of art to make it easier to convey our approach and our message to those unfamiliar with our work, and I think it worked. People seemed to like it, and the image was awarded the Autodesk Art and Biology Award

All of the above work is done in collaboration with Paul Villoutreix, a postdoc at our lab, Norbert Stoop from math at MIT, Adam Finkelstein and Jacob Edelman from Computer Science at Princeton, Caroline Doherty, a graduate student in our lab, and two of our summer students: Alice Teng and Elin Ahlstrand. Not to mention, unwavering gratitude to my advisor, Stas Shvartsman and members of my committee, Yannis Kevrekidis, Celeste Nelson, and Clifford Brangwynne from CBE. 

  • Hindgut Organoids

Organoids are cell aggregates that arise in vitro with 3D structure, which more closely mimics the in vivo tissue than 2D models. Given the proper environment and growth factors, pluripotent stem cells will differentiate into organoids of several tissues including brain, liver and intestine. A mechanistic understanding of early organoid formation is essential for transitioning these technologies into robust, high-throughput methods suitable for commercial and therapeutic applications. Unfortunately, current organoid differentiation methods are inefficient in that they generally create heterogeneous cultures. In the past two years, I've been involved in an EBICS project that aims to understand the mechanisms regulating the emergence of intestinal organoids from hiPSCs derived hindgut cultures, and to design systems that sort for organoids predicted to mature successfully. This work is central to translating this technology into high-throughput models for drug discovery and development.

This work is being done in collaboration with the Kamm (MIT), Griffith (MIT) and Asada (MIT) labs, specifically with Natasha Arora and Jacob Guggenheim. A manuscript reporting these studies, titled “A process engineering approach to increase organoid yield” in Development can be found here

Art  & Communicating Science

In addition to being a great model system, the egg chamber is also a beautiful structure. Most of my work requires 3D images, or z-stacks, or egg chambers with multiples structures labeled simultaneously. The images and the colors are fantastic and make it easy to get others excited about one's work, and about science in general. I realized this very early on and got involved in the Art of Science exhibit, held (almost) annually here at Princeton, initially as a participant, now as an organizer. It's an exhibit showcasing some of the unintentionally beautiful images and videos captured in the process of 'doing' science, and is a great opportunity to engage the public in research seemingly going on behind closed doors.

 We're currently organizing the exhibit for 2017 so stay tuned ! 

I also come from an artistically inspired family. My mother, Ursula, and younger sister, Besan, have a taken on a mammoth project of putting together an art exhibit of their works. It is still a work in progress, but if you're interested, you can visit their website that hosts pictures of their pieces, or even contact them !

Education at a Glance

  • 2012-Present | Princeton University

PhD Candidate in Chemical & Biological Engineering

  • 2007-12 | University of Pennsylvania

MSE & BSE in Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering

Minor in Mathematics and Materials Science & Engineering

Concentration in Environmental Engineering

  • 2005-07 | United World College (UWC-USA, NM)

International Baccalaureate (IB), hot springs and the worldliest of places

  • 1993-05 | Schmidt’s Girls’ College, Jerusalem

Typing lessons. Mathematics in Arabic and in English. 

Please contact me for a complete resume or with any questions in general :)  

.... and this is my dog Zeus 

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