This week, UCI celebrates 10 years of lifesaving innovation out of the Sue & Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center. In this Q&A, center director Aileen Anderson discusses some key accomplishments and describes the importance of stem cell research – how it’s the key to fighting some of the most tragic illnesses, from neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s to conditions such as blindness and the infectious disease of most concern today, COVID-19.
Why is stem cell research so important? Does it really play a role in fighting disease and helping create a healthier future?
The extraordinary potential of human pluripotent stem cells was immediately apparent when they first appeared on the scene in 1998. Pluripotent stem cells can be coaxed into becoming nearly any specialized cell type. But making that potential a reality required lots of hard work, and over the past decade, that work has been bearing fruit. Now we can see practical ways to take stem cells and mature them into highly functional cell types to treat injured or diseased organs or tissues.
How has stem cell research developed in the last 10 years?
Stem cell research has grown in both practical ways and in important new directions. We now know how to scale up stem cell production to create large numbers of cells for therapies. We have new sources of stem cells such as induced pluripotent stem cells, a technology that won the 2012 Nobel Prize and allows us to obtain stem cells that act like embryonic