Scientists estimate that human bodies contain anywhere from 75 to 100 trillion cells. And of these cells, there are hundreds of different types.
Yet, one cell type in particular has captured the fascination of assistant professor David Brafman: the human pluripotent stem cell (hPSC).
As self-replicating cells — capable of dividing and forming new cells — hPSCs offer immense research potential.
They are able to provide the raw material needed to generate the hundreds of different cell types that comprise the human body.
Think of it as a reverse e pluribus unum. Something like out of one, come many.
Brafman has received a $420,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health to take discoveries related to hPSCs out of the research lab and into the clinical setting where they can transform, even save, lives.
In particular, his research focuses on using the remarkable qualities of hPSCs to generate large quantities of hPSC-derived neurons, which are instrumental in advances toward the study and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, ALS, spinal cord injuries and other neurodegenerative disorders.
“Neurodegenerative diseases and disorders remain some of the leading causes of mortality and morbidity in the United States,” said Brafman, a biomedical engineering faculty member in ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the disease affects more than 130,000 individuals statewide and is the fifth leading cause of death in Arizona.
“Several bottlenecks limit the translation of hPSCs and their derivatives from bench to bedside,” said Brafman, referring to the need to take this research from the laboratory bench to the clinical bedside.
For one, it requires billions of cells for research in disease modeling, drug screening, and cell-based therapies to be successful. So far, a rapid and comprehensive generation of these cells hasn’t been possible, and Brafman’s research aims to usher in the large-scale expansion of hPSC-derived neurons needed for these treatments and research applications.
“If successful, this work will provide researchers robust methods to generate the large quantities of cells needed for clinical applications,” Brafman said.