Current Research and Scholarly Interests
Dr. Helms is a Professor in the Department of Surgery at Stanford University.
Her research interests center around regenerative medicine and craniofacial development.
Every adult tissue harbors stem cells, which potentially could be used to regenerate damaged or diseased tissues. In my laboratory, one of our goals is to understand the regulatory pathways that control stem cell self-renewal, proliferation, and differentiation. We have focused on two signaling pathways whose activities seem to be an essential feature of tissue healing. Wnts and Hedgehog proteins are both lipid-modified growth factors that have well documented- and essential- roles in embryonic development. We have found that both pathways are active during the repair of bones, muscle, skin, heart, brain, and retina, and that repair of most or all of these tissues is impeded when these two pathways are blocked.
We have developed a novel packaging method whereby the biological activity of lipidated Wnt and Hedgehog proteins can be preserved in the in vivo wound environment. Using these and other tools developed by our collaborator Roel Nusse, we have embarked on experiments to first understand the mechanisms of action of these growth factors in the healing wound, and second, to use this information in biomimetic strategies to accelerate tissue repair.
The long-term goal of this component of my research program is to elucidate the molecular and cellular mechanisms regulating normal and abnormal craniofacial development. We use a variety of animal models (mice, chicks, quails, ducks, pigeons) and approaches (genetic approaches, experimental manipulation of embryos) to understand how the face is patterned.
Prior to Stanford, Dr. Helms spent 8 years at the University of California at San Francisco, where she was the Director of the Molecular and Cellular Biology Laboratory in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery. Dr. Helms received her dental degree from the University of Minnesota, and her residency certificate and Ph.D from the University of Connecticut Health Sciences Center.
Dr. Helms reviews manuscripts for leading journals such as Nature, Science, and Development and reviews grants for the NIH, NASA, March of Dimes, and a number of other non-profit organizations. She is President of the American Society of Craniofacial Genetics.
Dr. Helms is also an active teacher in both craniofacial and stem cell biology. She teaches undergraduate, graduate, and continuing education classes at Stanford. She mentors undergraduate and graduate students, dental and medical students, residents, and fellows and has been an advisor for Masters and Ph.D candidates.