November 18, 2013 - By Christopher Vaughan
Hiromitsu Nakauchi, MD, PhD, a renowned stem cell scientist, has been recruited to the faculty of the Stanford Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine.
Nakauchi, who previously directed the Center for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine at the University of Tokyo, is the first scientist recruited to Stanford with the assistance of a $6 million research leadership award from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine. The award is designed to help bring stem cell researchers from outside California to the state, and to allow them to pursue high-risk, high-reward research.
"We are very excited to be bringing Dr. Nakauchi to Stanford," said Irving Weissman, MD, director of the university's stem cell institute and a professor of pathology and of developmental biology. "He is one of the world's leading stem cell scientists. His recent discoveries that tissues and organs can be developed from pluripotent stem cells of one species in the body of an animal of another species promise an important path to using stem cell biology to advance human regenerative medicine."
The recruitment marks a return to Stanford for Nakauchi. After earning a medical degree from Yokohama City University and a PhD in immunology from the University of Tokyo, Nakauchi studied immune-cell genes as a postdoctoral scholar in the laboratory of the late Stanford geneticist Leonard Herzenberg, PhD.
Nakauchi then returned to Japan to study blood and immune stem cells at the RIKEN Research Institute and at the University of Tsukuba. In 2002, he became professor of stem cell therapy at the Institute of Medical Science at the University of Tokyo. In 2008, he was appointed director of the newly created Center for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine there.
Nakauchi said he is excited to be coming back to Stanford, this time as a faculty member. Although the university has grown tremendously over the intervening years, he said, "its open, friendly and innovative atmosphere does not seem to have changed."
Nakauchi notes there are differences between the way science is done in Japan and in the United States. "My challenge will be to combine and to utilize the best parts of the systems in both countries to do innovative science and create innovative scientists," he said.
His research involves clarifying the mechanisms of stem cell self-renewal and creating new medical therapies involving stem cells. One project explores the possibility of creating human organs in large animals. Currently, the options for patients with failing or diseased organs are limited because suitable donor organs often cannot be found. Some stem cell scientists have explored the possibility of creating new organs from stem cells in the lab, but fully functional organs are shaped by complex interactions with other organs and tissues during development.
Nakauchi has pioneered an approach that may allow stem cells from a patient to become the seeds for new, genetically matched organs that are grown in large animals. Once mature, those organs could be transplanted into the patient. Such organs could also become model systems for drug or human health research.
Christopher Vaughan is communications manager at the Stanford Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine.
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