Contact: Will Sansom
|Erzsebet Kokovay, Ph.D., is studying neural stem cells to understand how they might be used to repair the brain, especially as we age. She is an assistant professor of cellular and structural biology. |
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SAN ANTONIO (March 20, 2014) — Nine faculty presenters from the UT Health Science Center San Antonio discussed the science of stem cells and regenerative medicine during the initial RegenMed SA conference held recently at UTSA.
RegenMed SA included speakers from several San Antonio institutions and was a lead-up to the World Stem Cell Conference to be held in December in San Antonio. The Health Science Center is a sponsor of that upcoming world meeting.Dr. Erzsebet Kokovay: neural stem cell researchErzsebet Kokovay, Ph.D.
, assistant professor of cellular and structural biology at the Health Science Center, is studying neural stem cells (NSCs) to understand how they might be used to repair the brain, especially as we age.
She is asking questions such as:
- How do NSCs decide to divide?
- What signals them to migrate to sites of an injury?
- How does the microenvironment regulate NSC function?
A major portion of her work is conducted to understand how aging changes NSC function.
“When you age, your NSCs don’t work as well, affecting cognition and repair following injury,” she said. “We think this is in part due to inflammation associated with aging.”
Her lab is investigating strategies to reduce age-related reduction in NSC functions. One such strategy is caloric restriction, and mice fed restricted diets don’t exhibit the age-related decrease in NSC function.
Dr. Kokovay, who came to the Health Science Center in 2013 with a $250,000 Rising STARs Award from The University of Texas System, said, “Regenerative medicine is an exciting, fantastic, hopeful way to heal people during aging and disease.”
Dr. Chih-Ko Yeh’s salivary gland research
|Chih-Ko Yeh, B.D.S., Ph.D., is studying the glands that produce saliva to determine whether stem cells might regenerate the glands of patients that are destroyed due to radiation treatment.|
Saliva is like air and water. If we have it we don’t think much of it, but if we don’t have enough, it makes swallowing, speaking and eating a problem. Lack of saliva can even be life-threatening because of the risk of oral infection becoming systemic in the body. Chih-Ko Yeh, B.D.S., Ph.D.
, professor of comprehensive dentistry, is studying the glands that produce saliva to determine whether stem cells might regenerate the glands. Each year, about 40,000 to 50,000 people undergo head and neck irradiation that destroys the salivary glands. “These glands sit right next to the skin — they are very vulnerable,” Dr. Yeh said. 4 million affected by Sjögren's syndrome
Another source of attack is an autoimmune disease called Sjögren's syndrome. About 4 million people in the U.S. suffer with it. “We are trying to regenerate salivary gland cells, because if they are destroyed they are gone,” Dr. Yeh says.
Working with a Xiao-Dong Chen, M.D., Ph.D.
, a stem cell researcher at the Health Science Center, and collaborator Anson Ong, Ph.D., from UTSA, the Yeh lab has found that silk is a good support structure for growing salivary gland cells. “We are seeding primary salivary gland cells on this silk and finding that they are able to produce an extracellular matrix on the surface of the silk that resembles the native microenvironment of the salivary gland,” Dr. Yeh says. “For salivary gland research, this is a big technological advance.”
Future directions are to see whether salivary gland tissue can be regenerated using stem cells and in an animal model. This is important research, since 50 percent to 90 percent of elderly people also complain of mouth dryness.###The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio
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