NOV 17, 2016 03:00 PM PST

Molecular elucidation and engineering of stem cell fate decisions

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  • Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Department of Bioengineering, Director of the Berkeley Stem Cell Center, University of California, Berkeley
      David Schaffer is a Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Bioengineering, and Neuroscience at the University of California, Berkeley, where he also serves as the Director of the Berkeley Stem Cell Center. He received a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from Stanford University in 1993 and a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1998. He then conducted a postdoctoral fellowship at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies before becoming a faculty member at the University of California, Berkeley in 1999. At Berkeley, Dr. Schaffer applies engineering principles to enhance stem cell and gene therapy approaches for neuroregeneration, work that includes novel approaches for molecular engineering and evolution of new viral vectors as well as new technologies to investigate and control stem cell fate decisions. Dr. Schaffer has received an NSF CAREER Award, Office of Naval Research Young Investigator Award, Whitaker Foundation Young Investigator Award, and was named a Technology Review Top 100 Innovator. He was also awarded the American Chemical Society Marvin Johnson Award in 2016, the American Chemical Society BIOT Division Young Investigator Award in 2006, the Biomedical Engineering Society Rita Shaffer Young Investigator Award in 2000, and was inducted into the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering in 2010.


    Stem cells play critical roles in the development of organisms, as well as in the maintenance and repair of organs and tissues throughout adulthood.  Advancing our understanding of mechanisms that control stem cell behavior – in particular their two hallmark properties of self-renewal and differentiation into specialized cells – will enable these cells to be increasingly harnessed to repair tissues damaged by disease or injury.  Stem cells reside within specialized microenvironments or niches that present them with a spectrum of regulatory signals to control their behavior. In particular, the niche presents stem cells with a range of molecular cues, and it has also been become increasingly apparent that key biophysical features of the environment modulate the presentation of this biochemical information. For example, spatial and temporal variation in the presentation of cues is important information that can impact fate decisions and tissue structure. In addition, the tissue matrix can have variable bulk mechanical properties and surface topographical properties depending on how its assembled.
    We have created several technology platforms to investigate these problems, and in particular to understand and control the differentiation of adult neural stem cells and human pluripotent stem cells into neurons. First, we are developing and harnessing optogenetics as a system to investigate how cellular signaling dynamics impact fate decisions. Second, we develop bioactive, synthetic material systems to investigate the effects of cell-matrix and cell-cell interactions on cellular function. Finally, we work towards translating the basic information that emerges from both of these efforts into safe, scaleable, fully defined, robust culture and implantation systems for stem cell based regenerative medicine efforts to treat human disease.

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