The Stem-Cell FrontierGAMBIER, Ohio (January 27,2012)
Can scientists develop a drug that would increase the number of stem cells in human umbilical-cord blood, which is vital in transplant medicine? What about using stem cells to make pancreatic islets for diabetes treatment?
Kenyon students are studying questions like these as part of an intensive short-course on stem cells taught by one of the nation's leading molecular biologists who is also a noted bio-tech entrepreneur. The course, centered on current research, is being offered during a two-week campus visit by Harvey Lodish, a professor of biology and bioengineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Lodish, a 1962 Kenyon alumnus, oversees a laboratory at MIT's Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research.
"This is a chance to explore a really exciting field of biology with a top researcher at one of the premier institutions in the world," said Karen Hicks of the College's biology faculty. Twelve advanced biology students will take the course, which meets for four days this week and another four days during the week of February 6-10.
"Stem cells are a huge, rising field and will be very relevant in the next few decades," said Aaron Yeoh '12, a molecular biology major from Rancho Cordova, California, who is in the course. Yeoh's interest in stem cells grew last summer, when he worked in an oncology lab at Mt. Sinai Medical Center in New York.
Lodish will also present two public talks during his stay. The first, on non-coding RNAs in the mammalian genome, will be part of the Biology Seminar Series, on Thursday, January 26, at 4:15 p.m. in Higley Hall Auditorium. The second, for a more general audience, will be a Common Hour presentation titled "My Careers in Biotechnology, Patent Law, and Economic Development." It will take place on Tuesday, February 7, at 11:10 a.m., also in Higley Hall Auditorium.
"Small liberal arts colleges produce a disproportionate share of leading American scientists," said Lodish, explaining his enthusiasm for returning to his alma mater to teach the course. "In this class, I'll be going over a lot of experimental techniques that are very powerful in giving insights into how stem cells work. We'll cover the three types of stem cells: adult stem cells, embryonic stem cells, and induced pluripotent stem cells-that is, when you take a differentiated cell, like a muscle cell, and turn it into a stem cell."
Lodish, a former Kenyon trustee, is a leader in the field of membrane biology whose lab focuses on the basic cell and molecular biology of genes and proteins important for human physiology and disease. He has also founded and served on advisory boards of several biotechnology companies. After earning his B.A. at Kenyon, he received a Ph.D. at Rockefeller University. He is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.