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Personal profile

Research interests

Dr. Irina Elcheva's research focuses on understanding the regulation of gene expression in human development and cancer. Current projects in Dr. Elcheva's laboratory investigate regulatory pathways of self-renewal and differentiation in normal and malignant stem/progenitors cells with a focus on the hematopoietic system, including regulation of gene expression in leukemia-initiating cells and modeling of myeloid blood development by transcriptional programming of human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs).

Dr. Elcheva received her training in stem cell biology in the laboratory of Dr. Igor Slukvin at UW-Madison, Wisconsin, where she discovered that co-expression of endothelial and hematopoietic transcription factors e.g., ETV2 and GATA2, induces hiPSCs' differentiation to blood cells with pan-myeloid phenotype. Currently, Dr. Elcheva investigates the application of the direct programming of hiPSC-based systems for disease modeling and drug toxicity screening.

Besides transcriptional programming, Dr. Elcheva's lab investigates RNA-binding proteins (RBPs) that play an important role in maintaining potency and proliferation. Dr. Elcheva, the lead author of the study, showed that Insulin-like growth factor 2 mRNA-binding proteins (IGF2BPs) maintain leukemia stem cell properties by regulating transcriptional and metabolic regulators of stemness: HOXB4, MYB, and ALDH1A1. In a recent collaborative study, Dr. Elcheva's, Dr. Schell's, and Dr. Spiegelman's research teams demonstrated that IGF2BPs suppress innate and adaptive immune responses in cancer cells and tumor microenvironment. Currently, Dr. Elcheva's lab investigates the dual role of IGF2BPs in supporting proliferation and inhibiting immune responses, and mechanisms of IGF2BP-mediated immunogenicity in liquid and solid tumors. The ultimate goal of Dr. Elcheva's research is to develop new and improve existing treatments of refractory and relapsed pediatric cancers by targeting cellular processes of self-renewal and differentiation.

Teaching and educational interests

Dr. Irina Elcheva is passionate about teaching and expanding knowledge in the field of stem cell and developmental biology.

In 2016, Dr. Elcheva joined the two-year-long Junior Faculty Development Program (JFDP) at Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine, directed by Dr. Sarah Bronson. Under JFDP, Dr. Elcheva initiated a project of building a stem cell research community and the development of the Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology Program (SCRBP) at Penn State College of Medicine. The program comprises the implementation of fundamental academic activities: (1) teaching courses on stem cell and developmental biology; (2) organizing monthly seminars and lectures on various topics of stem cell research, and (3) implementing stem cell models into collaborative research projects. Since 2017, the SCRBP has been supported by the Department of Pediatrics, the Four Diamonds Foundation, and other departments of Penn State College of Medicine. Since SCRBP's initiation, the program has been directed by various members of the stem cell community at Penn State and hosted more than 20 seminars on various topics of stem cell research.

As a Penn State Graduate School faculty member, Dr. Elcheva serves as a committee member and trains undergraduate, graduate, and medical students. Dr. Elcheva developed several stem cell biology-centered curriculums for Anatomy and Biomedical Sciences Programs and teaches the following classes during the academic year: ANAT586 (Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine), BMS581 (Cancer Stem Cells and Resistance to Therapies), BMS554 (Non-coding RNA and Cancer Therapies), GENET587 (Genetic Approaches to Human Disease (Lineage Tracing: Past, Present, and Future)).

In 2021, Dr. Elcheva graduated from the Clinician-Scientist Faculty Mentoring (FaMe) Program, led by Dr. Sinisa Dovat, and now serves as one of the FaMe mentors.

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being

Education/Academic qualification

MBA, The Pennsylvania State University

… → 2020

Postdoctoral Fellowship, University of Wisconsin-Madison

… → 2013

Molecular Oncology, PhD, Russian Academy of Medical Sciences

… → 2000

Biochemistry and Virology, BS, Lomonosov Moscow State University

… → 1996


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