Holly A.F. Stessman received her bachelor of science degree from Clarke University with a double major in biology and biochemistry, and went on to complete a graduate degree in molecular, cellular, developmental biology and genetics under the mentorship of Brian Van Ness at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities. From 2013 to 2016, Stessman was a Senior Research Fellow in Evan Eichler’s group at the University of Washington, working on genetics-first approaches to understanding genotype-phenotype relationships in ASD. Stessman joined the faculty at Creighton University Medical School in 2016, where she leads a research group identifying and functionally characterizing genetic variation that contributes to ASD disease biology.
Stessman’s lab aims to characterize the biological role of specific patient mutations using human cell lines, human induced pluripotent stem cells, zebrafish and rodent models. As a functional genomics laboratory, Stessman and colleagues utilize a diverse array of tools, including next-generation sequencing technologies, CRISPR/Cas9 genome engineering, high-throughput small-molecule screening, computational resources and classical molecular and cell biology approaches. While knock-out animal models can provide essential behavioral data (learning, cognition and social), cell lines expressing CRISPR/Cas9-engineered patient mutations are an important tool for the laboratory’s drug-screening projects. Stessman believes these efforts will give the autism community insight not only into etiology of the disease, but also into normal development of the brain and potential individualized treatment options.