Reproductive Biology & Tissue Engineering




Dr. Matthew B. Wheeler

  • Hometown: Los Angeles, CA
  • Degrees:
    Ph.D. (Physiology and Biophysics, Colorado State University)
    Master's of Science (Reproductive Physiology, University of California-Davis)
    Bachelor's of Science (Animal Science, University of California-Davis)
  • Thesis Title: In vitro capacitation and in vitro fertilization in cattle. Colorado State University, 1986
  • Current Position: Professor of Biotechnology and Developmental Biology Department of Animal Sciences, Department of Bioengineering, Department of Veterinary Clinical Medicine, Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology (Regenerative Biology and Tissue Engineering), Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology Carle-Illinois College of Medicine
  • Description of Research: Research activities can be divided into six areas of research. Generally, the work can be described as large animal reproductive physiology with an emphasis on 1) production of transgenic livestock, particularly swine and cattle, with improved production characteristics; 2) molecular and cellular mechanisms involved in embryonic stem cell development/ differentiation and early embryonic gene expression; 3) genetic evaluation, molecular gene mapping in livestock, early embryonic genotype evaluation; 4) development of remote sensing and microfludic handling methods for mammalian embryos; 5) the use of stem cells (adult and embryonic) for tissue engineering and cell-base therapies and 6) the use assisted reproductive technologies (in vitro maturation, in vitro fertilization, embryo culture, non-invasive embryo evaluation and embryo transfer) to improve livestock and food production. Long term goals are to 1) identify genes that regulate reproduction, lactation and growth; 2) develop methodologies in embryos to edit, transfer and utilize these genes for the genetic improvement of livestock; and 3) devise strategies for using stem cells for cell and tissue replacement.
  • Biographical Information: Matthew B. Wheeler is a professor of biotechnology and developmental biology, director of the Transgenic Livestock Facility, a faculty member in the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology’s Tissue Engineering Group, and an affiliate faculty member in the Beckman Institute Biological Sensors Group. He researches reproductive biology, tissue engineering and stem cells, and holds numerous patents in stem cells, gene transfer and transgenic livestock. His research led to the development of 3-D airway splints for infants with tracheobronchomalacia and to bone replacement implants. He earned bachelor's and master’s degrees in animal sciences from the University of California-Davis and a doctorate in physiology and biophysics from Colorado State University. Since joining the Department of Animal Sciences in 1989, he has consistently been rated one of its top teachers, and received several awards, including the 1999 D.E. Becker Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching and Counseling, the 2001 H.H. Mitchell Award for Excellence in Research and Graduate Teaching. He was named a University Scholar in 2002. Dr. Wheeler received the College of ACES Funk Award for Excellence (2012), the International Embryo Technology Society’s Distinguished Service Award (2015), the Carle Foundation Hospital Friends of Research Award (2013), and the UIUC Distinguished Faculty Leadership Award (2016), the "Mentor of the Year Award Award", International Embryo Technology Society (2017). He has also been named an Honorary Lifetime Member of both the Brazilian Embryo Transfer Society and the International Embryo Technology Society.

Research Associates

Dr. Derek J. Milner

  • Hometown: Des Moines, IA
  • Current Position: Research Scientist
  • Description of Research: Tissue engineering using adipose-derived stem cells.

Dr. Marcello Rubessa

  • Hometown: Napoli, Italy
  • Description of Research: The study of non-invasive methods (NMR & GLIM) to determine embryo health and viability, assisted reproductive technologies, gene editing and the production of superior livestock.

Visiting Scientist

Paula Viero Marchioretto

  • Hometown: São Leopoldo State:, RS, BR
  • Current Position: Visiting Scientist - Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine.
  • Description of Research: Synchronization of recipients and collection of oocytes (OPU) for in vitro fertilization in cattle, embryo transfer, pregnancy diagnosis, in vitro embryo production (oocyte maturation, fertilization and embryo culture).

Ricardo Della Mea

  • Current Position: Visiting Scientist - Universidade Federal de Santa Maria, Centro de Ciências Rurais, Curso de Medicina Veterinária, Santa Maria, RS, BR
  • Description of Research: Synchronization of recipients and collection of oocytes (OPU) for in vitro fertilization in cattle, embryo transfer, pregnancy diagnosis, In vitro embryo production (oocyte maturation, fertilization and embryo culture)

Dr. Luiz F. Nasser

  • Hometown: Campo Grande, Brazil
  • Degrees:
    Ph.D., 2006, University of Sao Paulo (USP)
    D.V.M., 1987, University of South Mato Grosso (UFMS)
  • Description of Research: Bovine Follicular Dynamics Biotechnology of in vitro embryo production Development of protocols for fixed time Artificial Insemination and Embryo Transfer Induction of parturition Freezing protocols for in vitro embryo production.

Luciana Mattar Naves

  • Hometown: Oliveira, MG, BR
  • Degrees: B.S. Biological Sciences, Unilavras Centro Universitário de Lavaras, Centenario, Lavras, MG,Brazil
  • Current Position: Visiting Scientist - In vitro embryo production (oocyte maturation, fertilization and embryo culture), embryo physiology and cryopreservation.
  • Description of Research: Improvement of In vitro oocyte maturation, fertilization and embryo culture media and protocols for highly efficient bovine in vitro embryo production.

Ph.D. Students

Dr. Eduardo Pradebon de Silva

  • Hometown: Itaqi. Brazil
  • Degrees:
    D.V.M., Federal University of Santa Maria, Santa Maria, Brazil
    M.S., Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, Porto Allegre, Brazil, 2016
  • Description of Research: Production and characterization of tropical adapted dairy and beef cattle.

M.S. Students

Molly K. Sermersheim

  • Hometown: Danville, IL
  • Degrees: B.S. Illinois Wesleyan, 2017
  • Description of Research: In vitro production of tropically adapted beef and dairy cattle for the developing world.

Sarah Womack

  • Current Position: Master's of Science Student
  • Description of Research: The pig is an ideal species for use in tissue engineering studies targeted toward repair of bone and cartilage defects. Novel collagen-glycosaminoglycan hydrogel (CG) scaffolds have shown promise for supporting bone and cartilage growth from mesenchymal stem cells. In order to determine the suitability of these scaffolds for use in porcine model systems for bone and cartilage tissue engineering, we have begun to investigate the behavior of porcine mesenchymal stem cells on this material. The purpose of this study was to determine whether mesenchymal stem cells from fat (ASC) and bone marrow (BMSC) form bone on the CG scaffold material.


Thomas A. Bane

  • Hometown: Mahomet, IL
  • Current Position: Undergraduate Research Assistant
  • Description of Research: Tissue engineering offers a viable alternative to bone grafts in repairing large bone defects. This involves using scaffolds of various sizes and shapes that contain stem cells and other osteoinductive molecules. Vitamin D3, a fat-soluble secosteroid that increases intestinal absorption of calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphate, and zinc, was tested to determine if it has an effect on adipose-derived stem cell (ASC) differentiation to osteoblasts.
  • Career Goals: To be an orthopedic surgeon.

Samantha (Sammi) Bessler

  • Hometown: Sparland, IL
  • Current Position: Undergraduate Research Assistant
  • Description of Research: Production of Holstein X Gyr F1 heifers for improvement of tropical dairy and beef production.

Katherine (Kat) Claire Ratz

  • Degrees: B.S., University of Illinois
  • Current Position: Undergraduate Research Assistant


Josh Bertels

  • Current Position: Master's of Science Student at Texas A & M University, College Station, TX
  • Description of Research: Zinc plays a major role in bone health and mineralization in humans. Recent studies have also shown that zinc transiently activates the Stat3 pathway, helping to maintain embryonic stem cell pluripotency. As zinc has been shown to enhance the pluripotency of stem cells, its application to regenerative medicine is one that needs to be explored further.

Samantha Johnson

  • Degrees: B.S, Animal Sciences, University of Illinois, 2015
  • Current Position: Veterinary Student - University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • Description of Research: Pellet cultures are commonly used to study chondrogenic differentiation in vitro. Our laboratory has demonstrated pellets made with chondrocytes grow in size during culture and produce cartilage matrix, but pellets made with adipose-derived mesenchymal stem cells (ASC) grow only slightly, producing little cartilage matrix. The objective of this study was to determine if differences in chondrocyte and ASC pellet growth result from differences in cell proliferation or in deposition of extracellular matrix.

Nicole Lopez-Vargas

  • Hometown: Carolina, Puerto Rico
  • Degrees: B.S. University of Illinois, 2017
  • Current Position: Veterinary Student - University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • Description of Research: Reproductive biotechnology frequently requires improvements in our ability to isolate DNA from fewer and fewer cells. It is now possible to find a number of commercially available kits to meet this demand, but they frequently come at a relatively high cost. The aim of this project was to evaluate the efficiency of a simple handmade protocol to extract DNA from a small number of cells.

Samantha K. Lotti

  • Degrees:
    B.S., Animal Sciences, University of California, Davis, 2014
    M.S., Animal Sciences, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign,Feb. 2017
  • Current Position: Laboratory Technician, Children's Hospital, Seattle, WA
  • Description of Research: Genetically modifying animals is a tool that can be used to increase livestock production. The gene editing technology CRISPR has expanded the possibilities of gene editing. The Cas9 nuclease creates a double strand break which can be repaired by non-homologous end joining (NHEJ) or homology directed repair (HDR). The goal of this experiment was to create a single nucleotide change using the CRISPR/Cas9 system in combination with a single strand oligo nucleotide (ssODN). The single nucleotide that was targeted occurred naturally in Holstein cattle, and is associated with increase milk production.

Leticia Ribeiro Padoveze

  • Hometown: Jaú, São Paulo, Brazil
  • Current Position: Graduanda em Medicina Veterinária Universidade de São Paulo - FZEA/USP
  • Description of Research: Gene expression and cellular mechanisms of amnionic stem cells from livestock.

Kathryn Polkoff

  • Hometown: Wilmette, IL
  • Degrees:
    M.S. Animal Sciences, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, August 2017
    B.S. Animal Sciences, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, May 2015
  • Current Position: Ph.D. student North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC
  • Description of Research: With the growing demands on agricultural production around the world, it is becoming increasingly important to figure out how to feed the growing population. For thousands of years we have been optimizing our agricultural outputs in livestock species through reproductive selection based on favorable traits, many of which are due to genetic variation. Single nucleotide polymorphisms are responsible for a great deal of either beneficial or undesirable mutations. We are interested in examining how we can use the CRISPR/Cas9 system to induce single-base pair substitutions, thereby improving animal genetics through removal of undesirable or insertion of beneficial mutations.

Francesca Salerno

  • Hometown: Salerno, Italy
  • Current Position: Doctor of Veterinary Medicine - University Federico II of Naples
  • Description of Research: Cryopreservation of bovine oocytes and embryo development in deuterated water

Sierra Schreiber

  • Hometown: Grayslake, IL
  • Current Position: Undergraduate Research Assistant
  • Description of Research: Evaluation of individual bovine sperm cells using GLIM microscopy.