James Ankrum, PhD

Contact Information

Office: 3336 PBDB
Phone: 319-335-6096
Faculty Profile

Brief description of research:

The Ankrum Lab is focused on engineering mesenchymal stem cell (MSC) based therapeutics, often with the use of biomaterials, to control cells after transplantation into disease microenvironments in a range of diseases including diabetic wounds, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and ischemic neuropathies. The lab sits at the intersection of bioengineering, biomaterials, cell biology, and immunology and is composed of scientists and trainees from diverse technical backgrounds. Broad areas of research in the lab include: Establishing control of the cell niche to control MSC function. To use MSCs as therapeutics we must understand the cross-talk between MSC and their environment, an ever-evolving cascade of signals from matrix, soluble cues, and neighboring cells. The lab works both on understanding the influence of disease specific factors (e.g. Diabetics have high glucose and free fatty acids) on MSCs, as well as engineering transplantable microniches from biomaterials that allow us to dictate cell fate in situ. Repeat identification and characterization of unique single cells through time and space. The role of single cells in physiological and pathological environments has become critical to the study of stem cell niches, tumor biology, and regenerative medicine. Leveraging expertise in intracellular particle delivery, the lab is developing new technologies that enable unique single cells to be identified across time and space making them amenable to serial interrogation through non-destructive tests. Such a technology will unleash entirely new avenues of investigation that are not possible with current technologies. Identification and induction of cell ‘states’ that predict MSC function. MSC are famously heterogeneous and only defined by a set of ‘minimal criteria’. The lab is interested in defining MSC ‘states’ that predict the cell’s response to future challenges.  Identification of states will enable techniques to be developed that induce cells to specific states for specific therapeutic applications.

3 most influential diabetes/obesity/metabolism publications:

  • Scaffold-free generation of uniform adipose spheroids for metabolism research and drug discovery Klingelhutz AJ, Gourronc FA, Chaly A, Wadkins DA, Burand AJ, Markan KR, Idiga SO, Wu M, Potthoff MJ, Ankrum JA, Scientific Reports 8, Article number: 523 (2018) doi:10.1038/s41598-017-19024-z
  • IFN-γ and TNF-α Pre-licensing Protects Mesenchymal Stromal Cells from the Pro-Inflammatory Effects of Palmitate Boland L, Burand AJ,  Brown AJ, Boyt D, Lira VA, Ankrum J. Molecular Therapy 2017 Dec 14. doi: 10.1016/j.ymthe.2017.12.013
  • A Low-Cost Technique for Intraoperative Imaging of Cell Delivery and Retention in a Model of Delayed Wound Healing Burand AJ, Boland L, Brown AJ, Ankrum J. Advances in Wound Care (2017).


Diabetes is a devastating disease that damages virtually every tissue in the body and is ravaging our society. Cell-based therapies provide the unique opportunity to not just manage symptoms, but actually restore function and quality of life to millions of patients. It is our mission to refine these therapies from an idea in a lab to the standard of care across the world.