Director: Kenneth R. Peterson, Ph.D., Vice Chair of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Members of the Center for Epigenetics and Stem Cell Biology investigate how cells become specialized in their function. This process is referred to as cell differentiation. Cell differentiation is a hallmark of embryogenesis. During embryonic development, cells increase in number, become specialized, and organize into tissues. Some examples of cell specialization include the formation of red blood cells, which transport oxygen; muscle cells, which produce movement; and neurons, which allow us to reason. The developmental fate of an undifferentiated cell, also referred to as a stem cell, is dictated by the cell's genetic program and its interactions with its environment. Acquisition of a specific cell fate is associated with the systematic modulation of regulatory processes controlling the function of genes and proteins. Abnormalities in cell differentiation cause birth defects and lead to adult disease. Understanding molecular mechanisms controlling cell differentiation will result in the development of new strategies for the treatment of disease. These approaches will include the generation of unique drug- and cell-based therapies. The applications of these new therapeutic tools will be numerous and include potential treatments for infertility and a diverse range of debilitative diseases, such as, cancer, diabetes, liver fibrosis, stroke, heart disease, vascular and blood diseases, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, and spinal cord injury, in addition to many others.