Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

About the PNAS Member Editor
Name Blau, Helen M.
Location Stanford University
Primary Field Cellular and Developmental Biology
Secondary Field Medical Genetics, Hematology and Oncology
 Election Citation
Blau's nuclear reprogramming studies revised our understanding of cell differentiation. Using cell fusion to form stable non-dividing heterokaryons, she showed that the differentiated state is reversible and readily changed by shifting the stoichiometry of regulators, a foundation for the development in the past decade of regenerative medicine.
 Research Interests
Blau's research challenged the long-held view that the differentiated state is fixed and irreversible by demonstrating that previously silent genes could be activated in human cells. Using a heterokaryon cell fusion system, her laboratory showed that the differentiated state requires continuous regulation and is controlled by the balance of regulators (transcription factors) present in a cell at any given time, principles fundamental to the derivation of induced pluripotent stem cells. Her laboratory now capitalizes on the unique potential of the heterokaryon system to capture early and transient epigenetic and transcriptional events critical to reprogramming to pluripotency (iPS). Blau's laboratory has discovered that telomeres protect mice from cardiac diseases due to heritable defects in contractile proteins, such as dystrophin. The underlying mechanisms of telomere shortening and approaches to telomere elongation are a current major research focus. Blau's laboratory developed a means of manipulating the microenvironment by creating bioengineered niches to enhance muscle stem cell function. This platform has enabled the elucidation of intrinsic and extrinsic factors that diminish stem cell function with aging and muscular dystrophy. Her lab has discovered therapeutic strategies to rejuvenate the aged muscle stem cell population that enhance regeneration and restore strength to injured muscles in the elderly.

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