During her graduate studies at the University of Cincinnati, Dr. Donnelly investigated mechanisms promoting the development and progression of gastric cancer. This work determined that chronic inflammation can lead to the acquisition of a cancer-promoting phenotype within bone marrow-derived mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs). Additional analyses revealed that recruitment and engraftment of these “activated” MSCs within sites of inflammation promoted the expansion of a cancer stem cell-like population within the stomach.
As a postdoctoral fellow at Baylor College of Medicine in Dr. Noah Shroyer’s laboratory, Dr. Donnelly is interested in the mechanisms regulating intestinal development, particularly specification of the crypt-villus axis and villus morphogenesis. She is also investigating NGLY1 Deficiency using human intestinal organoids (HIOs) as a model system. These in vitro “mini-guts” are derived from pluripotent stem cells and recapitulate the composition and function of the human gastrointestinal tract. HIOs have proven to be a valuable model in multiple studies seeking to characterize gastrointestinal development or to mimic disease states. By using induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) derived from healthy and NGLY1 deficient individuals to generate HIOs, Dr. Donnelly and the Shroyer laboratory are attempting to define how this condition affects gastrointestinal development and physiology.