‘Stem Cell Maestro’ Answers Some of the Most Interesting Questions About Her Research

‘Stem Cell Maestro’ Answers Some of the Most Interesting Questions About Her Research

Ever had a hard time thinking about what you’re going to become in the future? Or more specifically, you know what you want to become, but you do not know where to focus your attention to?

The latter was the case for Sarah Heilshorn. Her research pretty much gave her the moniker “the stem cell maestro” because she found a way to use new methods that will utilize stem cells in a way to help treat brain and spinal cord injuries (which were two of the conditions were previously deemed as untreatable).

Before we start with the article, I want to give a little bit of background information about her. Sarah Heilshorn is a chemical engineering grad student at Caltech.

She used to not have a definite direction as to which one she will specialize in. To her, whenever she meets someone who is working on, say, solar cells, then she will find it interesting and will focus on that. However, if there is another person that will say that this particular topic is quite interesting, then she will turn to that as well.

Heilshorn was only more focused when a Caltech Engineer that goes by the name of David Tirrell, gave a speech about synthetic biomolecules.

It was only at that time when her focus is set to one specific area of expertise and she made Tirrell her mentor on this.
She said that she was fascinated by the notion that you can pretty much program organisms to help create new ingredients for the making of possible treatments and medicines in the future.

Heilshorn is now focusing more on engineering some proteins to help create neural stem cells for the treatment of injured spines and brains.

1.Naturally, we heal ourselves by basically relying on our body’s own processes, but why is it difficult to heal spinal cord injuries?

The reason why the hands and other parts of the body heal rather quickly is that they are mostly made up of peripheral nerves, which have this inherent ability for rapid recovery and regeneration.

On the other hand, our brains and spines are made up of nerves and, (in no thanks) to the blood-brain barrier, the one that is protecting these delicate parts is also the one responsible for making it hard to deliver medications and treatments in the said areas.

2.How do you make proteins to help stem cells to regenerate neurons?

Proteins contain amino acids that, when combined with certain modules, will have a different function. For instance, there is one module that will make the protein bind to other cells and there is also a module that will turn it into a spring-like substance.

3.The use of stem cells for therapy is nothing new, so what makes your research extra special?

The stem cells that we use are encapsulated in a special protein that will help them survive whenever they are transplanted into the patient’s body.

4.How do you go about treating brain and spinal cord injuries?

We try to directly administer the stem cells into the damaged part of the brain or spine.

5.That seems a lot of work! How do you de-stress, then?

I am always a fan of dancing and I do it as part of the notion that we can combine both dance and science.

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