Guiding Cells for the Future of Medicine

April 10, 2019
Hertz Staff
Livermore, Calif

“Over a million patients in the US await organs that they’ll never receive,” says Kyle Loh (‘11). This demand can’t be met by organ donors, so researchers like Loh are bringing artificial replacements for these transplants within reach.

“Our goal is to artificially generate human tissues from embryonic stem cells for patients in need” says Loh. Such tissue can be generated by steering the stem cells through a branching series of developmental decisions with a complex set of chemical signals. During his Hertz Fellowship, Loh “mapped” these signals and the branching developmental pathways they create. This effort made it possible to produce pure batches of cells destined to grow into individual organs, a necessary precondition for growing the replacements themselves.

Artificial replacements for organs aren’t right around the corner – Loh estimates it will be at least another 20 years before cells can be coaxed into fully functioning organ replacements. But he’s not slowing down. Now an assistant professor at Stanford, Loh has shown that lung cells and liver cells thusly produced can repair damaged organs in mice, growing into functional structures within the mouse’s body, bringing the repair of damaged organs within reach.