During his career as a developmental biologist, Hearst Fellow Peter Fabian, PhD, has studied many kinds of fish — from bichir and sturgeon, to gar and medaka. However, his favorite is the zebrafish, the current focus of his postdoctoral training in the USC Stem Cell laboratory of Gage Crump, PhD.

“I like zebrafish most,” Fabian said. “It’s a very convenient, small fish. It’s a perfect model organism.”

By observing zebrafish embryos, Fabian is exploring how stem cells generate the cartilage, bone and tendons of the face during normal development, and how stem cell dysfunction contributes to craniofacial birth defects — which are common in newborns.

During his fellowship, Fabian will create a “map” of the different types of progenitor cells within the developing zebrafish face. He will determine which genes are active in which cell types, and then use these genes as “markers” to recognize the different cell types and follow their developmental trajectories.

Throughout the project, he will also collaborate with scientists from the USC Stem Cell lab of Michael Bonaguidi, PhD.

While Fabian never expected to spend so much time in the company of fish, he was always destined for life in the laboratory. His scientific curiosity blossomed during his early years in Slovakia — where his family lived in the small town of Spisska Stara Ves before moving to the capital city of Bratislava.

He pursued bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biochemistry at Comenius University in Bratislava. He then obtained his PhD in developmental and molecular biology at Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic.

After graduation, he remained at Charles University for a short but productive postdoc in the lab of Robert Cerny, PhD. Fabian then joined Crump’s zebrafish laboratory at the Eli and Edythe Broad Center for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at USC.

“Peter impressed me right away with his enthusiasm and broad knowledge of developmental biology,” said Crump, professor of stem cell biology and regenerative medicine. “It was clear to me that Peter was a perfect example of the type of out-of-the-box researcher who can bring new insights into a field. I was therefore thrilled to recruit him to my lab.”

After completing his postdoctoral training, he intends to move back to Europe with his wife and two children — currently ages 2 and 4 — and start his own independent research laboratory.

“I’m so pleased and honored that I’ve received this fellowship,” Fabian said. “This is really a cornerstone that I can build my career on. It also supports me as a person and my family, and enables us to enjoy life here. So I’d really like to thank the Hearst Foundation for their support.”

— Cristy Lytal