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A focus on the medical promise of adult stem cells

Elaine Fuchs of the Rockefeller University has revealed the genetic basis of blistering skin diseases.

Undergraduate students in the department of biological sciences not only learn a multidisciplinary approach to bioscience but also gain a better grasp of the issues shaping science today. One topic that must be part of any discussion of biosciences in the 21st century is stem cell research.

“This topic is very relevant to society,” says Vassie Ware, associate professor of molecular biology. “There has been a political debate about the potential for stem cell research, but even before the last election, this country had been talking about stem cell research for a long, long time.”

Much of the debate has focused on the use of embryonic stem cells, but many researchers are also exploring the potential of adult stem cells in regenerative medicine.

“Because of technical advances, we can dream about solving some horrific medical problems,” says Ware. “The notion of using adult stem cells puts the debate in a context that’s more palatable for some.”

To aid in the discussion, the biological sciences department will host a seminar and public lecture on Friday, Jan. 29, delivered by Elaine Fuchs, a professor of mammalian cell biology and development at the Rockefeller University and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) investigator.

Last year, Fuchs received the 2009 National Medal of Science for using the mouse as a model system to understand the cell biology of human skin and its disorders, and for her research into adult skin stem cells, cancers and inherited syndromes.

Fuchs’ studies have uncovered the genetic basis of blistering skin diseases and clues to the way skin cancers and inflammatory skin disorders develop. Her research may also hold clues to deciphering the extraordinary characteristics of stem cells that enable them to develop into distinct tissues and organs.

“The key here is how to manipulate stem cells that are derived from adults to make advances in medicine that were previously thought to be viable only with embryonic stem cells,” says Ware, who is also the co-director of the HHMI program grant that is supporting the event.

The HHMI program grant has allowed numerous visiting scholars to speak at Lehigh. All of them collaborate with researchers in other disciplines to solve some of the biggest science and health issues facing the world today.

Fuchs will present her seminar, “Skin Stem Cells in Morphogenesis and Cancer,” at 11:10 a.m. in Room 270 of Lewis Lab. She will also deliver a public lecture titled “Stem Cells: Their Biology and Medical Promise” at 4 p.m. in Packard Auditorium. Both events are free and open to the public.
 

Story by Tricia Long

Posted on Tuesday, January 26, 2010

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