Kara McKinley, Ph.D.
- Assistant Professor of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology
- Principal Faculty member
Harvard Stem Cell Institute
- Associate member
Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard
Kara McKinley joined HSCRB in 2021. She received her A.B. from Princeton University in 2010 and her Ph.D. from MIT in 2016. From 2016-2021 she was a Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow and NIH K99 Pathway to Independence Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of California, San Francisco. She is the founder of Leading Edge, an initiative to promote gender equity among life sciences faculty.
The McKinley laboratory studies how epithelial tissues generate the right cells in the right places as they renew and regenerate during adulthood. The lab focuses on two of the most dynamic organ systems in mammals: the small intestine and the uterus. The intestinal epithelium is in a constant state of flux, replacing almost all of its cells every 3-5 days, and can rapidly regenerate its diverse cell types upon damage. The human uterine lining (endometrium) undergoes dramatic tissue remodeling each month over the menstrual cycle, followed by shedding during menstruation and subsequent repair, ultimately regenerating ~400 times over the reproductive lifespan. Together, these systems provide powerful complimentary models to reveal unifying principles of regeneration, as well as to identify key aspects of organ-specific physiology.
We use high-resolution live microscopy to watch and perturb regeneration in real time, and use a variety of genetic, molecular, and cell biological approaches to mechanistically dissect these processes over single-cell and tissue length scales. Our goals are to define the cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying the remarkable regenerative capacity of these organs, to understand how defects in these processes give rise to pathologies including cancers and endometriosis, and to harness their regenerative mechanisms for the precise repair of old or damaged tissues.