Rediscover STEAM
Published in

Rediscover STEAM

Helen Blau, Stem Cell Biologist

Helen Blau was born on May 8, 1948 in London, United Kingdom as a dual citizen of the United States and Great Britain. In her early years of education, she earned a B.A. from the University of York in England as well as her M.A. and Ph. D. in Biology from Harvard University. She also earned a postdoctoral fellowship with Charles J. Epstein in the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics and the Division of Medical Genetics at UCSF. In 1978, she joined the Stanford University faculty to continue her research and leads the Blau Lab in the Baxter Laboratory for Stem Cell Biology today.

Her greatest achievement lies in her establishment of the reversibility of the mammalian differentiated state. The landmark papers Blau wrote show that nuclear reprogramming and the activation of novel gene expression is possible, which overturned the traditional view of the differentiated state. Her breakthrough created opportunities for cellular reprogramming and their application to stem cell biology. Blau demonstrated that previously dormant genes can be activated in human cells. Her lab, using a heterokaryon cell fusion system, shows that differentiated cell states require continuous regulation controlled by balanced regulators. Regulators, in this instance, are used to refer to the transcription factors of cell multiplication and the cell cycle. The balance of regulators is required for cells and is fundamental to deriving the induced pluripotent stem cells. Induced pluripotent stem cells are a type of cell capable of generating directly from a somatic cell. These cells are also able to reprogram back into embryonic-like pluripotent states that enable the development of an unlimited source of human cells necessary for therapeutic purposes. Induced pluripotent stem cells are used in the field of gene therapy to help people recover from genetically mutated diseases or to remove tumors.

Blau’s lab was able to discover that the telomeres of chromosomes in mice with cardiac diseases were protective and are caused by some action of inheritance or heritable traits showing defects. The underlying mechanisms of telomeres cause shortening leading to telomere elongation, which is a current major research focus. Rather than the traditional method of research, her laboratory was able to develop a means of manipulating the research environment by controlling the micro-environments by creating bioengineered niches to enhance the muscle and stem cell function. The platform resulted in a breakthrough regarding clearer ways of intrinsic and extrinsic factors diminishing stem cell function with aging and muscular dystrophy. Blau was able to use strategies to rejuvenate the aged stem cells. Blau’s discovery in regenerative medicine led to helping and aiding the elderly to become healthier.

She is currently working to discover more in the world of stem cell research. As a proud member of the National Academy of Sciences, her primary election is Cellular and Developmental Biology, and her secondary section is Medical Genetics, Hematology, and Oncology.

by Valerie (Yunhui) Shim

References

Helen Blau. (2020). National Academy of Sciences. http://www.nasonline.org/member-directory/members/3000435.html

Stanford. (2015, Winter). Baxter Laboratory for Stem Cell Biology. Blau Lab. http://web.stanford.edu/group/blau/

Helen Blau. (2020). National Academy of Sciences. http://www.nasonline.org/member-directory/members/3000435.html

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store