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As a leading center of biomedical research, the University of Michigan has many scientists who have been attracted to the promising new frontier of stem cells. They hope to build new understanding of basic biology and perhaps improved medical treatments.
Across a wide array of topics, from repairing facial injuries to attacking cancer, all types of stem cell research are being done at Michigan, using both adult and embryonic stem cells from humans and animals. To see some recent press releases on their important work, please see “In the News.”
Here are a few of the U-M researchers exploring stem cells:
James Douglas (Doug) Engel, Ph.D.
Engel’s lab studies the embryonic development of mammals to determine how tissues and organs are generated, and how embryonic cells are instructed to become specialized cells. He is interested in learning how chemical signaling between cells works and how, when it goes wrong, cancers and other diseases can occur. These studies have led to surprising insights into the developmental origin of the central and peripheral nervous system, the kidney, the cardiovascular system and blood.
Eva L. Feldman, M.D., PH.D
Professor of Neurology in the Medical School
Director, A. Alfred Taubman Medical Research Institute
Director, JDRF Center for the Study of Complications in Diabetes
Director, ALS Clinic
As one of the nation’s leading biomedical researchers Feldman is conducting groundbreaking work in ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Diseases) and other neurological diseases. One of the most exciting new approaches to treating ALS involves stem-cell technology. Injecting stem cells into the spinal cords of rats with ALS has shown great promise in arresting the disease.
Paul Krebsbach DDS, Ph.D.
Krebsbach’s research focuses on bone growth and bone marrow with the goal of being able to help human tissue heal itself better and regrow missing or damaged areas. He is currently studying how human embryonic stem cells differentiate into bone tissue, using both cell cultures and biomaterial scaffolds in animal models. His work also compares the activity of embryonic stem cells to adult stem cells. His long-term goal is to understand the signals that specify bone cell differentiation of hES cells and work towards some day being able to grow replacement bone.
Ivan Maillard, M.D., PH.D.
Assistant Professor, Center for Stem Cell Biology at the Life Sciences Institute
Assistant Professor of Hematology-Oncology in the Medical School
Maillard investigates the signals regulating the development and function of blood-forming stem cells. He is studying how these cells are supported in fetal hematopoietic organs, such as the fetal liver, the main site of blood development during fetal life before migration of blood-forming stem cells into the bone marrow to improve or enhance their function after transplantation. In addition, it might provide insights into the function of stem cells in other contexts, including in cancerous tissues.
Jack M. Parent M.D.
Associate Professor of Neurology in the Medical School
Acting Director, Epilepsy Research Program
Dr. Parent’s research has focused for a decade on the role of adult stem cells in epilepsy and stroke. His laboratory, working with the Michigan Center for Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research at U-M, is attempting to repair stroke damage by transplanting neural progenitor cells derived from embryonic stem cells.
K. Sue O’Shea, Ph.D.
O’Shea’s lab is focused on the cell-to-cell communication that occurs during formation of the nervous system. In particular, her group is interested in a protein, thrombospondin, that appears to be telling new nerve cells to migrate in specific ways to form parts of the brain. Embryonic stem cells are being used to study patterns of gene expression during formation of the retina in animal models.
She also heads the Michigan Center for hES Cell Research, which is an NIH-funded central resource for the U-M campus that helps researchers from many labs culture and work with human embryonic stem cell lines that are on the approved list for NIH-funding.
Gary D. Smith, Ph.D.
Director of the MStem Cell Laboratories
Professor of Ob/Gyn, Urology, and Molecular and Integrated Physiology
Dr. Smith’s research in stem cell biology and derivation of new human embryonic stem cells incorporates over 20 years of: i) experience directing clinical embryology laboratories for treatments of infertility and/or preserving fertility; ii) investigating intracellular regulation of chromatin remodeling in oocytes and molecular regulators of embryo development; iii) integrating novel technologies developed in chemical and biomedical engineering, material sciences, and physics into basic and applied studies of gametes, embryos, and embryonic stem cells. Collectively, these skills and investigations result in translating basic discoveries into solutions for current practical short-comings of human embryonic stem cell isolation, culture, differentiation, and establishment of model systems for human diseases.
Max Wicha, M.D.
Dr. Wicha is at the forefront of research into cancer stem cells, the small number of cells within a tumor that are capable of fueling the tumor’s growth. His team was first to identify stem cells in a solid tumor, finding them in breast cancer. Recent research suggests cancer stem cells share some basic elements with embryonic stem cells, as well as with normal adult stem cells. Thus, in order to understand how cancer stem cells are regulated, scientists have to study and understand how these pathways work in embryonic stem cells. By studying embryonic stem cells, we can accelerate efforts to find a cure for cancer.
Yukiko Yamashita, Ph.D.
Research Assistant Professor, Center for Stem Cell Biology, Life Sciences Institute
Assistant Professor of Cell and Developmental Biology, Medical School
Yamashita is elucidating the process of stem cell division and its role in the age-related decline in organ repair and in the onset of some cancers and other proliferative disorders. She studies the division of stem cells to establish which ones go on to replace differentiated cells and which ones maintain the pool of stem cells for future division. Yamashita won a prestigious MacArthur Fellowship in 2011.