April 30, 2012

Stem cells and epigenetics: Barbara Panning

The developing embryo is made up of special cells called stem cells. Unlike most cells, stem cells have the unique ability to transform into specialized adult cells, such as those that make up our heart or the neurons in our brain. In the last five years, scientists have designed a method to go backwards; now the specialized adult cells can be turned into embryonic stem cells. However, a lot of questions remain unanswered. For instance, scientists still do not completely understand what triggers stem cells to transform into different cell types. Or what process keeps stem cells from changing in the first place.
Our guest, Dr. Barbara Panning, a professor in the department of biochemistry at UCSF, is in the process of answering this question. Using a process called RNA interference, her lab turns off specific genes one by one to see how embryonic stem cells are affected. Her research has potentially important implications for diseases like breast cancer.

More on the Panning Lab's research

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