Dr. Karl Willert is an expert in stem cell and developmental biology. Dr. Willert obtained a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry from the University of California, San Diego (1989) and earned a Ph.D. in Biochemistry (1996) from the University of California, San Francisco under the guidance of Dr. Harold Varmus. Subsequently, he worked as a post-doctoral fellow with Dr. Roeland Nusse at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. In 2008, after working in the biotechnology sector for a few years, Dr. Willert was recruited as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Cellular & Molecular Medicine at the University of California, San Diego.
Underlying Dr. Willert’s research interests has been the study of WNT proteins, a family of secreted growth factors that regulate embryonic development and tissue homeostasis and impact a large number of human diseases, including neurodegeneration and cancer. Throughout his scientific career, Dr. Willert has incorporated biochemical, genetic and cell biological approaches to study these proteins and their signaling cascades. In a seminal study, Dr. Willert purified WNT proteins (he holds the patent on the “Composition of Active WNT protein”) and demonstrated that they harbor potent stem cell growth factor activities. His current research focuses on how WNT proteins regulate self renewal and differentiation of human pluripotent stem cells. He is actively collaborating on multiple projects, including with colleagues Dr. Dennis Carson (WNT-FZD signaling in cancer), Dr. Terry Gaasterland (genome-wide approaches to understanding WNT signaling), Dr. David Traver (development of hematopoietic stem cells in zebrafish and human pluripotent stem cells), and Dr. Dan Kaufman (targeting FZD7-expressing tumors with CAR-NK cells).
Dr. Willert has authored over 50 peer-reviewed publications, invited book chapters and review articles in the areas of WNT biochemistry and signaling and stem cell biology. Dr. Willert has been awarded 3 grants from the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine totaling $7.1 million. His research has also been supported by The National Institutes of Health (NIGMS, NHLBI, NIDDK) and the National Foundation for Ectodermal Dysplasias.
Research Focus Areas:
Developmental Biology | Signal Transduction | Stem Cell Biology