JAMES DOUGLAS (DOUG) ENGEL is a professor of cell and developmental biology and chairs the department. His lab studies embryonic development in 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.
"Researchers need to use embryonic stem cells because they need all the possible tools at hand to make discoveries about conditions as diverse as cancer and spinal cord injuries. Embryonic stem cells also represent a way to accelerate the pace at which we can screen possible new drugs and do early testing to determine a drug's safety and effectiveness."
DR. EVA FELDMAN is director the A. Alfred Taubman Medical Research Institute. She studies amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's Disease) and other neurological diseases. Her efforts to arrest ALS by injecting stem cells into the spinal cords of rats have shown great promise. But due to restrictive Michigan laws, Feldman must conduct much of the groundbreaking work at a California laboratory.
"We think we are on the brink of major clinical breakthroughs in the treatment of ALS and other neurological diseases, in large part because of our growing understanding of embryonic stem cells and what they can do. But Michigan's restrictive laws on embryonic stem cell research slow the pace of discovery, punish patients and could make the state seem like a scientific backwater if not corrected immediately."
SEAN MORRISON is director of the Center for Stem Cell Biology. He investigates the mechanisms that regulate stem cell function in the nervous and blood-forming systems, particularly the mechanisms that regulate stem cell self-renewal, aging and organ formation. His goal is to integrate what we know about stem cells in different tissues to understand the extent to which they employ similar or different mechanisms to regulate critical functions.
"Current state restrictions on human embryonic stem cell research do not protect a single embryo from destruction?they only delay medical research. We are not choosing fertility treatment versus research. Some embryos cannot be used for fertility treatment, so we are only choosing between throwing embryos away versus using them to help patients."
K. SUE O'SHEA is director of the Michigan Center for Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research. Her lab studies early differentiation of the mammalian embryo and uses embryonic stem cells to investigate the formation of the human nervous system. The Michigan Center for Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research is a National Institutes of Health-funded U-M facility that trains researchers to work with embryonic stem cell lines approved by the federal government.
"Embryonic stem cells are extremely valuable tools for scientists to learn about normal development and how early diseases, like spina bifida, originate. We can maintain embryonic stem cells in culture over time, which we can't do in most cases with adult stem cells. That means researchers can use embryonic stem cells to ask how diseases like multiple sclerosis and Huntington's work, and how to target them with the best treatments."
DR. JACK PARENT is director of the Neurodevelopment and Regeneration Laboratory.
His 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.
"Scientists in my field want to tap the power of embryonic stem cells to generate neural progenitor cells. Using embryonic stem cells promises to be an effective way to get enough viable neural stem cells into the brain to repair the damage caused by stroke and epilepsy, and to treat other neurological diseases."
DR. MAX WICHA, director of the Comprehensive Cancer Center, 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.
"Embryonic stem cells hold clues to how cancer develops and spreads. In order to understand how cancer stem cells are regulated we have to study and understand how certain pathways work in embryonic stem cells. By studying embryonic stem cells, we can accelerate efforts to find a cure for cancer."