September 3, 2009 –In an article in the Harvard Gazette, Alvin Powell reports that Harvard University’s Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology (SCRB) has introduced a new field of study as a concentration to its undergraduate students, called human development and regenerative biology (HDRB).
Launched two years ago, the Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology is the University’s first interschool department, with faculty from both the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and the Harvard Medical School. It also has close ties to the Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI).
The HSCI describes itself as a "scientific collaborative aimed at fulfilling the promise of stem cells" and has seen significant growth since its founding five years ago. It places a heavy emphasis not just on conducting laboratory work, but also on making advances that will lead to treatments for patients suffering any of a number of degenerative diseases. HSCI Co-Director Dr. David Scadden said, "Driven by the urgency of getting therapies to patients, we thought good things could happen when we combined the academic and clinical communities."
Researchers believe it is possible to one day use a person’s own stem cells to grow replacement tissue to treat diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease), Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Advances in research have developed rapidly since HSCI’s founding, including creation of a laboratory model of ALS tissue; the creation of 20 disease-specific cell lines that will allow researchers to better study those diseases in the lab; the direct reprogramming of one type of pancreatic cell in laboratory mice into insulin-producing beta cells destroyed by the body in diabetes; and the replacement of two genetic factors used in creating induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells.
William Anderson, the department’s undergraduate curriculum development manager, said students will benefit from the fact that the faculty come from different disciplines. For example, having Medical School faculty instructors lend a clinical perspective to subjects. "We set a high bar of curing disease," said HSCI co-director Douglas Melton.