Our mission is to understand how cells and tissues are formed and to use the information to repair or develop new tissues for biomedical purposes. In the near term, new cells and tissues will provide experimental cell systems to reveal the basis for human disease and to help develop pharmacologic therapies. In the long term, new cells and tissues will be used to combat human disease. These efforts are conducted in the light of ethical considerations and involve public education about the means and potential of regenerative medicine.
IRM research includes the basis for the formation for new types of cells that occur in embryonic development as well as the natural regenerative responses to tissue damage. Signaling factors in the cellular environment guide the differentiation of stem and progenitor cells in the embryo, and signaling factors that occur in adults guide the regenerative response in adults. A major emphasis of IRM is to identify the inducing signals in these contexts and to understand how they control cell identity and self-renewal, so that they can be used to guide stem and progenitor cell differentiation at will.
Targets of inducing signaling factors can include regulatory transcription factors and “epigenetic” modifications of genes in the cell nucleus. Transcription factors, epigenetic modifications, and signal transduction pathways that induce them are often dependent upon enzymatic activities. Understanding the ability to target such enzymatic activities by agonists and antagonists, to control cell differentiation, is of high interest to the IRM.
The factors that elicit the normal programming of differentiated cells are known to be evolutionarily conserved; thus, IRM research spans diverse model organisms and experimental systems. IRM also supports tissue engineering as a means to deliver new cells for therapies.
Together, these approaches provide a comprehensive approach to apply fundamental research at UPenn to regenerate cells and tissues for ameliorating or curing human disease.