HSCI Alumni: Qiao Zhou, PhD
The Zhou lab studies how specific cell types are created during development and uses this knowledge to regenerate or rejuvenate vital cells by in vivo reprogramming in adult organs. These adult cells demonstrate remarkable stability, maintaining their unique identity despite constantly changing physiological conditions. If this stability is undermined, diseases of metaplasia and cancer can arise. On the other hand, controlled manipulation of cell identity (converting a cell from one specialized type into another) is a key step towards tissue regeneration. Our laboratory investigates the molecular machinery that safeguards normal cell identity and seeks to control this process to regenerate tissues that are lost due to disease or injury.
We currently employ two major model systems. The first is revolved upon beta cells, the sole provider of insulin for the body. Our goal is to regenerate beta cells in adults as a way to treat Type I diabetes, a disease marked by a lack of beta cells due to autoimmune attacks. We are developing a novel approach to regenerate beta cells by converting cells of various internal organs, such as pancreatic exocrine cells, liver cells, and intestine cells, into beta cells by cellular reprogramming. We have recently demonstrated the promise of this approach in animal models.
In a parallel effort, we are exploring new ways to treat spinal cord injury. A major obstacle to functional recovery after spinal injury is the formation and persistence of glial scar tissue, which blocks the path of regenerating neuronal axons. We aim to transform these scar cells into cell types that are beneficial to recovery.
We are working to build studies of beta cells and spinal glial cells into platforms to understand the broad principles and molecular machinery that control cell identity. An array of molecular, cellular, and genetic techniques are employed in pursuit of this goal. These basic research efforts provide a firm foundation in our search for new treatments for degenerative diseases and cancer.
Dr. Qiao Zhou received his Ph.D degree in Neuroscience from the California Institute of Technology. He completed a Damon Runyon postdoctoral fellowship with Professor Douglas Melton at Harvard University. Dr. Zhou is currently an Associate Professor of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology and a principle investigator of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute. Dr. Zhou studied the Olig genes in the development of motor neurons and myelinating glial cells in the central nervous system. These early works led to the conviction that a small number of powerful genes can control the destiny of a cell, which led to his later works on reprogramming cells in adult organs. He has an undergraduate degree in marine biology and loves everything that swims, crawls, and drifts in the ocean.