On October 5, we opened our La Jolla campus to the San Diego community in honor of Stem Cell Awareness Day. Despite the rain and wind, a number of people from the San Diego Blood Bank, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, local schools, and elsewhere dropped by to learn about stem cell research and the promise these special cells hold for discovering the root causes of disease, finding new treatments, and ultimately improving the human condition.
On their tour, attendees visited the Stem Cell Research Center, where our staff scientists and post-doctoral researchers explained the differences between several types of stem cells: embryonic, adult, and induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). iPSCs are made from an individual person’s own skin cells and can be coaxed into becoming another cell type, such as neurons or heart muscle. When the starting cells come from patients with a particular disease (such as Alzheimer’s disease), iPSC technology gives researchers access to limitless quantities of cells to study—cells that carry the patient’s own genetic and environmental profile. This allows them to model diseases in a dish. On the Stem Cell Awareness Day tour, visitors got the chance to take a look through the microscope at nerve cells and beating heart cells that had been generated from stem cells.
Just as many of the stem cells generated in the Stem Cell Research Center do, visitors next moved to the Conrad Prebys Center for Chemical Genomics. There, attendees heard from Dr. Thomas Chung, project manager and outreach coordinator. He explained how the center is using robotic technology and automated microscopy to sift through hundreds of thousands of chemical compounds in the search for those that might alter symptoms in the Stem Cell Research Center’s “diseases in a dish.” The chemicals that have the desired effect could be further developed into new medicines to treat those diseases. This approach—using a patient’s own cells to look for potential drugs that address his or her own disease—is an important step toward personalized medicine, the concept of prescribing medicines based on an individual’s molecular profile and targeting treatment where it will do the most good and the least harm.
We hope to hold an even bigger event next October. If you’re interested in participating or have some thoughts on what you’d like to see, please leave a comment below. We’d also love to hear about how you spent Stem Cell Awareness Day 2011.