This spring marks ten years of excellent education, groundbreaking discovery, and clinical application that has paved the way for stem cell scientists around the world.
In April 2007, Harvard University established the Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology. Founded at a time when the use of federal funding for embryonic stem cell research was prohibited, the department offers Harvard students the unprecedented opportunity to not only learn about, but also participate in life-changing stem cell science with real-world applications. Those three core values—educational excellence, scientific discovery, and real-world application — have evolved together, informed on one another, and strengthened the department as a whole. Now, ten years later, the faculty remains committed to cutting-edge research and training the next generation of scientists, academics, and industry practitioners.
“It’s much more about the process.” - David Scadden
It’s a way of thinking. And, when founding co-chairs Doug Melton and David Scadden first discussed the creation of a new department at Harvard University, they decided scientific training and education should incorporate more than rote memorization of facts. Educational opportunities had to help students understand and navigate the landscape of scientific progress, and the best way to do that was to get students into the labs and working side-by-side with world-renown scientists and clinicians.
As a cross-school department, HSCRB is located on both the Cambridge and Longwood campuses and creates a bridge between Harvard University’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences and Harvard Medical School, and Harvard-affiliated hospitals for undergraduate, graduate and medical school students.
Over the years, the Human Developmental and Regenerative Biology undergraduate concentration has become one of the largest and most highly rated life sciences major at Harvard.
“What are the questions we don’t know the answer to?” - Doug Melton
Less than a year before the founding of the department, when our graduating seniors were still attending elementary school, researchers in the stem cell field created the first induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), which closely resembled embryonic stem cells, from mouse connective tissue. Now, scientists can not only generate human iPSCs, but they can also grow human cells and tissues in lab dishes, allowing researchers to use human cells to study human disease.
First to create patient-specific iPSCs, first to directly reprogram one type of adult cell into another, first to produce therapeutic quantities of insulin-producing beta cells, first to grow long-culture brain organoids, our scientists pioneering efforts to advance the stem cell and regenerative medicine fields.
As key members and contributors, our faculty leverage resources from the Harvard Stem Cell Institute to support cutting-edge research that traditional funding sources may deem too risky.
Fostering a culture of collaboration, between faculty members as well as industry and the area hospitals, the department is a beehive of scientific activity. HSCRB submits more grants/year/faculty member than any other department in the FAS, and about 50% of grant applications are awarded. Since April 2007, HSCRB faculty members have published over 300 Cell, Nature, and Science papers.
“These are not just discoveries that result in a paper.”- David Scadden
Whether it’s focusing on the most basic level of cellular development or screening chemical compounds to identify potential drugs, the ultimate goal of HSCRB research is to combat disease and improve human health.
Our researchers have been instrumental in studying stem cell biology and making iPSCs safer and more efficient for use in developing therapeutics; creating disease models to study, and maybe one day find a cure for, intractable diseases; and improving the safety and efficacy of the one type of stem cell therapy proven to be effective – blood stem cell, or bone marrow, transplantation.
Since the department’s founding, there have been 11 faculty start-up companies, including the most highly valued startup in healthcare and one of Nature Biotechnology’s most promising academic spinouts of 2016. And with five research labs based out of the hospitals and about one third of the faculty members holding medical degrees, the department is well positioned to move discoveries in the lab toward human clinical trial and fulfill its mission to improve human health.