Milestones in Stem Cell Science

Gail Martin, PhD

Since 1981, when UCSFs Gail Martin, PhD, co-discovered embryonic stem cells in mice and coined the term embryonic stem cell, UCSF has been a key player in the stem cell field.

The success in 1998 by the University of Wisconsins James Thomson in deriving human embryonic stem cells from embryos propelled the stem cell research field forward.

Beginning in the late 1990s, UCSFs Roger Pedersen, PhD, was one of two University scientists nationwide the other being James Thomson, DVM, PhD, of the University of Wisconsin to pioneer the human embryonic stem cell field. Following Thomsons 1998 discovery of a technique for deriving human embryonic stem cells from donated embryos left over following in vitro fertilization efforts, Pedersens lab derived two of its own lines of cells using the same technique.

In 2006, Shinya Yamanaka, MD, PhD, a senior investigator and the L.K. Whittier Foundation Investigator in Stem Cell Biology at the Gladstone Institute of Cardiovascular Disease and a professor of anatomy at UCSF, developed the method for inducing skin cells from mice into becoming like pluripotent stem cells and called them iPS cells. In 2007, Yamanaka did the same with adult human skin cells.

Shinya Yamanaka, MD, PhD

Yamanakas experiments revealed that adult skin cells, when treated with four pieces of DNA (now called the Yamanaka factors), can induce skin cells to revert back to their pluripotent state. His discovery has since led to a variety of methods for reprogramming adult cells into stem cells that can become virtually any cell type such as a beating heart cell or a neuron that can transmit chemical signals in the brain. This allows researchers to create patient-specific cell lines that can be studied and used in everything from drug therapies to regenerative medicine.In between and since, there has been major progress in scientists understanding of stem cells.

Today, fueled in part by the robust research enterprise at UCSF, the field is burgeoning. Yamanaka now commutes between Japan and San Francisco, where he is a professor of anatomy at UCSF and a senior investigator at the UCSF-affiliated J. David Gladstone Institute for Cardiovascular Disease.

At UCSF, Arnold Kriegstein, MD, PhD, director of the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regeneration Medicine and Stem Cell Research at UCSF, leads one of the largest and most comprehensive programs of its kind in the United States.

In about 125 labs, basic science researchers carry out studies in cell culture and animals aimed at understanding healthy cell function and disease progression and developing treatment strategies for a broad spectrum of disorders, including heart disease, diabetes, neurological diseases such as epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, Parkinsons disease and spinal cord injury and cancer. Clinical research teams have begun one of the first early-stage stem cell clinical trials in the United States, and other potential trials are on the horizon.

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Milestones in Stem Cell Science

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