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Recap of the Stanford Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine Tour

Somin Lee, UCB Bioengineering, Class of 2010

May 12th 2010

The overarching goals of Stanford’s Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine (ISCBRM) is to understand the creation, regulation, and specialization of stem cells in order to develop novel and ground-breaking medical therapies to the world’s currently incurable diseases. The ISCBRM places a strong emphasis on interdisciplinary collaborations between stem cell biology, computer science, and bioengineering in order to promote discovery and accelerate research progress. These interdisciplinary collaborations were clearly apparent based on the research presentations during the tour. Researchers of the ISCBRM are making substantial progress and it will be exciting to where they will be in the next few years.

Irv Weissman’s lab, a stem cell biology lab, has recently found a receptor molecule, CD47, that is present on bladder cancer stem cells. He calls it a “don’t eat me” signal that protects cancer stem cells from being destroyed by the body’s natural defenses. Therefore, he has developed selective antibodies that physically block the CD47 receptor so that cancer stem cells can now be selectively recognized and destroyed by the body’s natural defenses. This is a ground-breaking discovery that may lead to new therapies for treating cancer.

Marius Wernig’s laboratory has recently discovered that they can directly turn mouse skin cells into neurons, thereby bypassing the induced pluripotent stem cell stage. These neurons express neuronal proteins and form functional synapses with other neighboring neurons.

Complex biological problems require high throughput collection and data analysis, and Steve Quake’s lab, a bioengineering lab at Stanford, has met this challenge using integrated microfluidic devices consisting of thousands of micron-size channels and mechanical valves. Using this high throughput technology, his lab is able to sequence genomes in ground-breaking speeds.

Debashis Sahoo, a computer scientist and a Siebel Postdoctoral Stem Cell Fellow, has discovered by using Boolean logic coding strategy, he can screen databases containing millions of early active genes and late active genes, and select a small number of promising candidates for experimental screening. Experimental testing is a huge investment, and his Boolean logic coding strategy can potentially save time and millions of dollars in experimental testing. He is now using this strategy to find new genes that play a role in developing cancers.

Overall, the tour was thoroughly enjoyable. It was a great opportunity for Siebel Scholars in the Bay Area to meet and socialize. It was also great to see Tom up and about at this event. Many thanks to Jenny, Nitsa, Karen, and Elena for planning this exciting event!