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Featured Expert: Dr. Judi A. Sgambato: Study Director

Dr. Judi A. Sgambato Dr. Judi A. Sgambato

Dr. Judi Azevedo Sgambato is bringing big ideas to the science of the very small. A Study Director in Battelle’s biomarkers group, she is helping to develop new molecular assays for biosurveillance and creating stem-cell based in vitro models for toxicity testing and drug discovery.

Judi currently leads an internal Battelle research project to develop in vitro models to assess cardiac toxicity, which is one of the leading causes of drug failure during pre-clinical trials. New in vitro methods could help drug companies screen out drugs with high potential of cardiac toxicity before moving to animal trials. These methods have the potential to drastically reduce development costs and timelines for drug companies by allowing them to focus on formulations with the least risk of cardiac toxicity. Judi’s work focuses on using stem cell-derived cardiomyocytes (the primary muscle cells in heart tissue) to develop toxicity assays for drug screening. Using human cells in vitro can provide a more accurate prediction of how drugs will interact with human cardiac tissue and reduce the number of animals needed for pre-clinical testing. The utility of stem cell based technology can also be applied to study other cell types of interest for disease modeling and toxicity testing, such as hematopoietic (blood) cells, neuronal (nerve) cells, and hepatocytes (liver cells). In addition to drug discovery, the methods may be useful for toxicity testing of tobacco products and other potential toxins, as well as disease modeling.

Judi was also a contributing scientist on a Department of Defense (DoD) project to design and optimize a broad-spectrum bioassay for use in military bases around the world. The molecular assay can be used for detection of 47 different threat agents, including Ebola, anthrax, Lyme disease and many other bacterial and viral targets of interest for biosurveillance purposes. By combining a large number of surveillance targets into one simple test, the assay will make it easier for the military to monitor pathogens that could be used for biowarfare or that could otherwise threaten combat readiness.

Judi brings more than nine years of laboratory experience to her position. She joined Battelle in 2014 as a Research Scientist in Battelle’s Life Science Research business unit. As a graduate research assistant at the University of Maryland, her research focused on human stem cell culture and differentiation for in vitro disease modeling. She used these techniques to develop a disease model of Gaucher disease, a lipid storage disorder, using blood stem cells derived from reprogrammed skin cells. She earned her B.S. in Biology from the University of Maine and her Ph.D. in Molecular Medicine from the University of Maryland.

She plans to use her background to help expand Battelle’s in vitro capabilities for both toxicity testing and disease modeling. “It’s very exciting to work in a mission-focused environment with such a broad spectrum of capabilities,” she says. “The projects we are working on at Battelle have important implications for public health, military readiness and medical outcomes. I love being able to make a difference.”