Helen M. Blau

Stanford University


Election Year: 2016
Primary Section: 22, Cellular and Developmental Biology
Secondary Section: 41, Medical Genetics, Hematology, and Oncology
Membership Type: Member

Biosketch

Helen M. Blau, Ph.D. is the Donald E. and Delia B. Baxter Foundation professor and Director of the Baxter Laboratory for Stem Cell Biology at Stanford University.  Blau's research area is regenerative medicine with a focus on stem cells.  She is world-renowned for her work on nuclear reprogramming and demonstration of the plasticity of cell fate using cell fusion.   Blau led the field with novel approaches to treating muscle damaged due to disease, injury, or aging.  She pioneered the design of biomaterials to mimic the in vivo microenvironment and direct stem cell fate.  Her laboratory discovered that transient exposure to Prostaglandin E2 rejuvenates muscle stem cell function longterm, enhancing muscle repair.  She identified a novel hallmark of aging, the prostaglandin degrading enzyme, 15-PGDH, and showed that its inhibition augments aged muscle mass and strength. Blau served as President of the American Society for Developmental Biology, President of the International Society for Differentiation, and member of the Harvard University Board of Overseers. She is an elected member of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Academy of Medicine, and National Academy of Sciences.

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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