Since 1981, when the University of California, San Francisco’s Gail Martin, PhD, co-discovered embryonic stem cells in mice and coined the term embryonic stem cell, UCSF has been a key player in the stem cell field.

Arnold Kriegstein, MD, PhD

Arnold Kriegstein, MD, PhD, director of the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regeneration Medicine and Stem Cell Research at UCSF.

Beginning in the late 1990s, UCSF’s Roger Pedersen, PhD, was one of two University scientists nationwide — the other being James Thomson, DVM, PhD, of the University of Wisconsin — to pioneer the human embryonic stem cell field. Following Thomson’s 1998 discovery of a technique for deriving human embryonic stem cells from donated embryos left over following in vitro fertilization efforts, Pedersen’s lab derived two of its own lines of cells using the same technique.

Today, the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regeneration Medicine and Stem Cell Research at UCSF is one of the largest and most comprehensive programs of its kind in the United States.

In about 125 labs, basic science researchers carry out studies in cell culture and animals aimed at understanding healthy cell function and disease progression and developing treatment strategies for a broad spectrum of disorders, including heart disease, diabetes, neurological diseases — such as epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and spinal cord injury — and cancer. Clinical research teams have begun one of the first early-stage stem cell clinical trials in the United States, and other potential trials are on the horizon.

Leading the center are two UCSF scientists of international standing in their respective fields:

  • Director Arnold Kriegstein, MD, PhD — His research focuses on the role stem cells play in brain development, and he is exploring strategies for using these cells to treat such diseases as epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, spinal cord injury and stroke.
  • Co-director Rik Derynck, PhD — He is studying the role stem cells play in the development of cartilage, bone, fat, muscle and connective tissue, and how abnormalities in these cells give rise to craniofacial (cranium and face) and skeletal anomalies. He also is investigating the possibility of turning early-stage fat cells into other tissues, such as bone and muscle, to treat craniofacial defects, osteoporosis and osteoarthritis, as well as bone that is destroyed in some cancers.

In February 2011, the stem cell center celebrated the grand opening of a new building on the UCSF Parnassus campus. This unique structure serves as headquarters for a program that will continue to extend across all UCSF departments. The building is located near UCSF Medical Center, symbolizing UCSF’s long-term goal of translating basic science research findings into clinical treatments. 

Shinya Yamanaka, MD, PhD

Shinya Yamanaka, MD, PhD

In 2012, Shinya Yamanaka, MD, PhD, a senior investigator at the UCSF-affiliated Gladstone Institutes and a professor of anatomy at UCSF, won the 2012 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his discovery of how to transform ordinary adult skin cells into cells that, like embryonic stem cells, are capable of developing into any cell in the human body.

Yamanaka shares the prize with John B. Gurdon of the Gurdon Institute in Cambridge, England.

“This is a wonderful day for Dr. Yamanaka, UCSF, the Gladstone Institutes, Kyoto University and the world,” said UCSF Chancellor Susan Desmond-Hellmann, MD, MPH. “Dr. Yamanaka’s work exemplifies the potential of basic research to transform our understanding of human cell and molecular biology, and to use this knowledge to work toward the development of treatments for currently intractable diseases. He has opened up a whole new field of discovery, and our scientists are working hard to advance the research.”