Free Radical and Radiation Biology Graduate Program Alumni (pdf)


Success Stories of the Alumni


The following is a recent interview by the Carver College of Medicine,with 2008 Doctoral Graduate Michael Hitchler. Dr. Hitchler is currently a Radiation Biologist at Kaiser Permanente in Los Angeles, CA.

Old Capitol

What is your hometown?

Newton, Iowa

How or when did you become interested in science?

When I was young my grandmother used to read history and science to me. I guess these stories sparked my interest, because soon after that I started conducting my own independent experiments using things around the house. These simple homemade experiments hooked me on science for life. Since then I’ve always read about discoveries in the fields of chemistry, biology and medicine.

How or why did you choose the University of Iowa to complete your doctorate degree?

I was attracted to the University of Iowa by the opportunity to research and study at one of the premier health care facilities in the Midwest. The various programs and high quality of research conducted at the University of Iowa seemed like an environment in which my career could prosper. I was particularly drawn to the outstanding research and training environment in the cancer center here at the University of Iowa.

Is there a teacher, mentor or University of Iowa faculty member who has helped shape your education?

The entire faculty of the Free Radical and Radiation Biology program has guided me during my training at Iowa. However, the most important among these would be my thesis advisor Dr. Frederick Domann. Dr. Domann has given me multiple opportunities to gain new skills, form my own ideas, and collaborate with other scientists. Most importantly, he has started me on the path of becoming an independent investigator. Over the past two years Dr. Domann and I have worked closely together to outline the new field of free radical epigenetics to investigate the link between altered epigenetic processes and metabolic defects in disease and development.

What kinds of opportunities or advantages does being a doctoral student at Iowa provide? What about challenges?

The Free Radical and Radiation Biology program at Iowa is among the best in the world researching the connection between free radicals and human disease. Being trained in such a prestigious environment gives me an education in free radical biology and research available few other places in the world.

Please describe your professional goals and interests?

My overall career goal is to become the principle investigator of my own laboratory in an academic or institutional setting, studying the role of epigenetic processes in human disease and development. I have chosen this career path because I enjoy applying the scientific method to address scientific questions pertinent to public health. Such a career path would allow me to utilize my creative nature to address such questions. Fostering the development of the next generation of scientists is also crucial. During my experience as a graduate student at the University of Iowa I have enjoyed the opportunity to mentor several undergraduate and graduate students. Becoming a principle investigator would allow me to continue to train the next generation of health scientists.

What are some of your outside interests?

When away from the laboratory I enjoy watching University of Iowa athletics. I also like spending time outdoors to go fishing, camping and traveling whenever possible.

Do you have an insight or philosophy that guides you in your work?

The most valuable commodity of health scientists is their ideas and approaches to research. My driving force is to be creative in all my scientific pursuits. I’m always striving to formulate new hypotheses that address questions pertinent to the health of Iowans.

If you could change one thing about the world (or the world of science), what would it be?

Right now I would change the current funding situation. The primary source of medical innovation is based upon research paid for by federally funded peer reviewed grants. With the decrease of federal funding it is becoming increasingly more difficult to move forward with clinically relevant research. The decline of such research is a critical loss for the public.

What one piece of advice would you give to students who are interested in applying to a Ph.D. program?

Pick a program that is willing to train you in matters other than just research. Students often get caught up in what their project is going to be, rather than focusing on the academic environment. The success of a student after they leave a graduate program will equally depend upon their abilities to think, create, write and work at the lab bench.

What do you see as "the future" of medicine and medical research?

I feel that the future of medicine and medical research is in the development of nanotechnology. Applying nanotechnology to treat injuries and disease is potentially astounding. Treating a patient with small particles targeted to a specific lesion or defect would save a patient from suffering many of the side effects of current standards of care procedures.


Jackie R. Bickenbach, PhD
Associate Professor
Anatomy and Cell Biology
University Of Iowa

My dissertation Title: “Identification and behavior of label-retaining cells in epithelia.”

I returned to The University of Iowa in 1997. I am currently a faculty member in the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology.

German Research Award, Division of Skin Biology and Carcinogenesis, German Cancer Research Center, Heidelberg, Germany, 1979
International Association for Dental Research Hatton Award for pre-doctoral research, 1981
NIH Young Investigator Award, 1984-86
Keynote Speaker, Japanese Society for Investigative Dermatology, 2001
Johnson & Johnson Focused Giving Award, 2002, 2003, 2004
Keynote Speaker, Molecular Mechanisms of Epithelial Differentiation, Heidelberg, Germany, 2003.
Keynote Speaker, Korean Society of Investigative Dermatology, 2006
Johnson & Johnson Focused Giving 25th Anniversary Research Award Video, 2006

It is always interesting to hear what others have been doing with their lives, especially in the sciences, where missing a year or two can put you behind decades in technology. Imagine what happens to someone who misses seven years. I completed my PhD in 1982, then I did a three year post doctoral fellowship at the University of Washington. After that I left laboratory bench work until 1992. If you recall, it was during this time, the late 1980’s into the early 1990’s, when PCR was invented, also when embryonic stem cells were first used to make knockout mice. I missed the advent of both. What was I doing during this time? I was teaching scientific writing in Seattle University and West Virginia University. Why? Because I liked it, but also because I was following my husband around the country. To shorten this shaggy tale, we returned to the University of Iowa in 1997, where I am a faculty member in the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology with an established lab in keratinocyte stem cell research. And, yes, I learned PCR and ES cell techniques, which we routinely use in our research.

Our research involves both understanding how aging affects epidermal stem cells and developing molecular mechansims to de-differentiate skin keratinoccytes into cells that behave like stem cells. Previously, we identified a subset of basal skin keratinocytes as stem cells. These cells have multipotent characteristics in that they can differentiate into various other types of cells and tissues, including neurons and B-lymphocytes. We are examining these cells to determine whether they have activated new signaling pathways. We also have shown that the age of the epidermal stem cell has little effect on its multipotent capabilites, and thus could be used in translational or clinical cell-based therapies, especially in age-related diseases. Currently, we are using growth conditions and factors to modulate the function of skin keratinocytes. This translational project produces cells that we then test in models of human disease. A primary objective is to understand how these factors reprogram the keratinocytes into more potent cells. Recently, we have made the novel observation that one reprogramming event is rapid cell migration, a finding that may lead to a new understanding of early cancer metastasis. Overall, our goal is to develop a cell-replacement regime that can be translated into a clinical therapy, such as improving the rate of wound healing,  replacing defective tissues via tissue engineering, and treating metastic disease.

An interesting fact, Katie Grinnell, a former PhD student in my lab who graduated in 2007 won the University of Iowa’s Graduate Dean’s Dissertation Award for her work, “The effects of Oct-4 on the developmental potential of interfollicular basal keratinocytes.”

Website link to my current position:

NOTE: this link will change in the summer of 2008 when ACB switches to a UI ITS server.

Success Stories of the Alumni

Kelly K. Andringa, PhD
Postdoctoral Fellow
Department of Environmental Health Science
School of Public Health
University of Alabama at Birmingham


I joined the FRRB graduate program in 2000 after working for two years as a research associate in the transgenic animal facility at the University of Iowa.  After deciding I would like to pursue a graduate degree in the biomedical sciences I applied to the Free Radical Biology program because of the strong emphasis on Cancer Biology research.

After doing rotations through a few labs I decided to work with Dr. Douglas Spitz and my dissertation research focused on breast cancer cell treatments using inhibitors of glutathione synthesis, SOD mimetics and commonly used chemotherapeutics such as Doxorubicin.  I was able to use not only cell culture models but was also able to do some of the work in animal models of disease giving a more overall picture of what may work on humans.

Currently I am in my third year of postdoctoral research at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.  I am in the department of Environmental Health Sciences working with Dr. Shannon Bailey where we study the damaging effects of alcohol and high-fat diets on liver mitochondria.  I have been focusing my work on proteomics techniques to measure these changes in the mitochondrial electron transport chain and other mitochondrial proteins.  We also look at post-translational modifications in the same model systems.

I am currently the chair of the postdoctoral association at UAB, and am actively involved in helping set and organize programming for the postdocs.  I have participated for the last two years at UAB’s Postdoctoral Research Day where I have been awarded both first and second place.  I was also selected to give an oral presentation at a proteomics symposium with the leading proteomic researchers in Boston in 2006 as well as present our work at the SFRBM meetings in Denver and Washington DC.