Leilani Marty Santos

Leilani Marty Santos



The Wellik lab has focused their research on understanding the role that the Hox genes, which encode transcription factors that regulate the body plan of the developing embryo, play in the development of several different organ systems. I’m a new postdoc in this lab and my current project is to understand the role that a specific cluster of the Hox genes, Hox5, plays in postnatal lung development. Recent data from our laboratory shows that the Hox5 genes are involved in both lung remodeling and in the regulation of inflammatory responses during airway allergic disease, and I will be working to further study these processes, as insights obtained could help us better understand diseases such as allergic asthma.


Another aspect of developmental biology that I’m interested in is characterizing different factors underlying reproductive defects. While defects in several Hox paralogues have been observed in patients with endometriosis, infertility and other reproductive issues, little has been done as of yet to figure out what exactly is going wrong in these cases. As part of my independent research in the Wellik lab, I will be working to understand the role of several Hox genes, specifically the Hox10 and 11 paralogs, in reproductive defects.


I’ve been excited by biomedical research for about half of my life. Most of the research I’ve performed has been dedicated to understanding the roles that specific transcription factors play in both basic developmental pathways and as the underpinnings of diseases when these pathways are disrupted. As a developmental biologist, I love that I get to be the first person to try to figure out what is happening on my projects, and that I get to contribute by putting new pieces into the ever expanding puzzle that is biology.


My passion is teaching science, especially developmental biology while continuing to perform research at the bench. Being able to guide students through experiments and seeing their faces light up when they finally understand a concept or technique or when they get a really interesting piece of data is a breathtaking moment that not everyone gets to see and enjoy, and I live for those moments.


At UM, I not only get to work with an amazing mentor in my field of interest, but I also have access to a wonderful scientific community that is performing cutting edge research, which means I get to learn about exciting new fields and techniques every day. I also get to collaborate with grad students and undergrads that are hungry for knowledge that I get to teach on an everyday basis, in addition to having many other teaching opportunities and training programs that will better prepare me to be a professor/PI in the future.