Skip to main content

RotM : Interview with Dr. Sonja Schrepfer

For this month's Researcher of the Month, we spoke to  Dr. Sonja Schrepfer, Professor of Surgery, at Division of Adult Cardiothoracic Surgery, University of California San Francisco (UCSF).  Dr. Sonja is also the Director at TSI Lab at UCSF, which focuses on methods for preventing immunological rejection of tissue in heart and lung transplant. 

Dr. Sonja's recent publication in Nature Biotechnology, tells us about recent advancements made by her lab in generating derivatives from stem cells that avoid immunorejection in healthy recipients. 

CTS : For the benefit of our readers, could you please explain in brief what your team has achieved in this publication?
Dr. Sonja Schrepfer (SS): Our team used CRISPR to create the first pluripotent stem cells that are functionally “invisible” to the immune system, a feat of biological engineering that prevents rejection of stem cell transplants and brings the promise of regenerative medicine a step closer to becoming reality. The immune system is unforgiving — it’s programmed to eradicate anything it perceives as alien. This protects the body against infectious agents and other invaders that could wreak havoc if given free rein, but it also means that an organ or tissue transplant is interpreted as a potentially dangerous foreign incursion, which invariably provokes a vigorous immune response that leads to transplant rejection. In our paper, we describe how, by altering the activity of just three genes in pluripotent stem cells, these triple-engineered stem cells are able to avoid rejection after being transplanted into histocompatibility-mismatched recipients with fully functional immune systems.


Dr. Sonja Schrepfer at TSI Lab at UCSF
Dr. Sonia at the TSI Lab

CTS: What kind of cardiac patients would be benefited with such a treatment option, that might be available in the future?

SS: All patients where cells or tissue have to be replaced.

CTS: How did you arrive at the idea  of hypoimmunogenic pluripotent stems cells for cell grafts?
SS: By learning from Nature: We studied for many years fetomaternal tolerance. The fetus during pregnancy is not rejected by the mother's immune system, although half of the fetal's proteins are from the father. We studied single molecules to achieve fetomaternal tolerance and identified the combination of the fewest number of modifications needed to achieve hypo-immunogenecity.


CTS: Going forward would you to be looking at injecting differentiated cells or stem cells? 

SS: It is important to note, that pluripotent stem cells (such as induced pluripotent stem cells or so called "iPSCs") cannot be injected into patients. Since they are pluripotent, they would form teratomas. Therefore, only differentiated cells can be used for injection.


CTS: How does your team plan to take this research further? 

SS: Our technique can benefit a wider range of people with production costs that are far lower than any individualized approach and we only need to manufacture our cells one time and we’re left with a product that can be applied universally. 

CTS: International Women's Day is celebrated in March every year but women's participation in science is still low. What steps would you suggest for increasing women's participation in science?  
SS: We need to encourage and support girls and women achieve their full potential as scientific researchers and innovators. Mentors and roles models can have a positive impact on female scientists and on girls who want to step in the scientific career. This is also very important in society and modern culture where stereotypes are still present. Along good mentors, support of family and friends is essential. 


Dr. Sonia with her lab staff
Team outing! Science is all about exploring!

CTS: What would be your advice to a budding researcher?

SS: Choose the field you are excited about - motivation keeps you going although in times when experiments are failing or hypothesis have to be re-considered. Be a truth-seeker and don't stop to ask questions that bring you closer to a solution. Usually each answer after an experiment opens 10 new questions.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Do free energy magnetic motors really work?

The internet is rife with websites that promote generators that are capable of providing electricity without using any fuel. Built largely with magnets, these 'free energy generators' promise to cut your electricity bills and provide a much greener alternative to the electricity that is largely generated out of fossil fuels. Elaborate videos that give you estimates of how much money you can save without revealing any details of how to go about it, manage to keep the audience hooked on for a while, but $40 price tag, the loads of freebies and the instant $10 discount for not leaving the page, make the product and its seller highly suspicious. So, we decided to find out if these free energy magnetic motors really work?



The Principle

The magnetic motor works on the simple principle that we all already know, 'Like poles repel each other while opposite poles attract each other'. By arranging the magnets in a fashion where only like poles face each other, one can simply set t…

Why Sci-Hub’s story is so crucial to science?

On the 28th of October 2015, Judge Robert Sweet in his ruling at the New York district court declared that the website www.sci-hub.org be blocked with immediate effect and managed to stop hundreds and thousands of researchers and science enthusiasts from accessing the holy grail of today’s science, the research paper.
What should be a simple means to communicate to the world one’s research findings, has become a currency of some sort. A ticket to a researcher’s professional success, a magnet for an investigator to attract funding for his lab and the elusive piece of the puzzle that the publishing group can hold you ransom for, until you cough up some good cash ($30 or above for a single article and thousands of dollars for a bundled annual subscription)
What Judge Sweet termed as a “disservice (to) public interest”, is actually a small website that allows you access to scientific research, old and new, and for free. Sci- Hub. Org, started in 2011, as a trusted place to access research …

Generating electricity from flapping tree leaves

As kids, you might have spent many afternoons, under a huge tree, enjoying its shade. In a tropical country like India, trees are a welcome sight in the month of May, when the sun is blazing in the sky and the shade offered by them is a hundred thousand times better than artificial cooling of the air conditioning units. But never in our dream would we have thought that the rustling of the tiny leaves of the trees could one day make electricity for us.Because that requires a Hendersonian moment! (just in a bit)

This brilliant idea has come from the lab of a biophysicist at Iowa State University, Dr. Michael McCloskey, whose work at the University largely involves the study of membrane transport in algae and adult born neurons but also has a background in plant sciences. It was his colleague in the department of genetics, Dr. Eric Henderson who first came up with this plan of harvesting energy from leaves as he wondered how much kinetic energy was being generated when winds blow across l…

5 things driverless cars will do to change our future?

The race for building the world’s first commercially available driverless car is on. Google seems to be leading the pack and in its own charismatic style has been very open about it. Elon Musk’s Tesla is considered the second best with their cars having almost automated the driving process. Tech favourites, Apple also seem to be in the race but everything is under wraps, as of now, and there is not even a hint of what Apple is planning to make, the car, the software or simply make the car accessible with your Apple ID.
Once part of science fiction, driverless cars will soon be a part of our lives and with major automobile manufacturers such as General Motors, Toyota, Ford investing in the technology, prototypes of driverless cars will soon be seen on the roads. Before we get there, a quick review.
The Driverless car
The concept of automated driving has been around for close to a century but progress was slow due to unavailability of technology. For a car to be autonomous, it needs to kno…

Solar cells that work in rain

In case you have read my last month’s guest post about harvesting solar energy in rust, you would be delighted to know that there has been yet another breakthrough in our attempt to harness solar energy.  For many years, solar energy has been targeted for being unavailable at night and during rains. The problem of utilizing solar energy at night can be resolved with the help of metal oxide cells as elaborated in my above post (do read it, if you have not done so already). And now researchers at the Ocean University in China have addressed the second problem and developed solar cells that can actually use rain drops to generate electricity.
Published in the German journal Angewandte Chemie, the paper titled, A Solar Cell Triggered by Sun and Rain, opens a new realm of possibilities when harnessing solar energy. Coating the solar cell with a thin film of graphene allows the cell to function even when it is raining. Graphene is nothing but reduced form of graphite that consists of a hone…