Chair’s Message from Jeanne B. Lawrence

 Jeanne Lawrence, PhD

 Jeanne Lawrence, PhD

Welcome to the Department of Cell and Developmental Biology, which was recently re-titled to reflect strengths of existing faculty, and the directions for future growth which increasingly link developmental cell biology and disease.

Our focus in the Department of Cell and Developmental Biology (CDB) is on understanding the processes and mechanisms that give rise to the various distinct cell-types of the body, and on dissecting how key cellular structures form and contribute to cell function. Defects in constitutive or cell-type specific cell biology underlie most disease states, many of which are studied in our department, including muscular dystrophy, Down syndrome, cancer, and congenital blindness.

Further, the cell biology of early development and differentiation is a resurgent area of research, now widely recognized to be central to the exploding field of stem cell biology and the promise of regenerative medicine. When a salamander loses its tail, it simply grows one back. Understanding how such cell-based changes in differentiation and tissue architecture occur, and can be recapitulated in human cells, is the exciting promise of modern developmental cell biology, with potential to transform biomedicine.

The last two decades have also witnessed a revolution in mapping, sequencing, and analyzing the human and other genomes. This genomic sequence data is a powerful resource for research, which is leading to rapid advances in translating basic genetic discoveries to the clinic. However, the next decade will witness a revolution in epigenetics, the mechanisms whereby gene expression is stably regulated and inherited between cells, to produce specific cell types of the body. This process is exquisitely controlled in precise time and space; but when it is not, a variety of disease phenotypes manifest. In fact, the rapid proliferation of undifferentiated cells that characterizes stem cells of the early embryo is largely recapitulated in inappropriate contexts in cancer, which is both a genetic and epigenetic disorder.

I am gratified to work with an accomplished faculty advancing cutting-edge and interdisciplinary techniques to examine cell structure and function, primarily in mammalian and human developmental systems. The specialized expertise of CDB faculty members provides services to the university community through a variety of core services, such as electron and confocal microscopy and transgenic animal modeling cores, as well as service to the broader scientific community, exemplified by the International Stem Cell Registry project. The student training environment is enhanced by interactivity through a rich menu of seminars, departmental chalk talks and special interest clubs, such as the inter-departmental Epigenetics Club initiated by our department.

Our department is notable for its nationally recognized teaching faculty, and our unusually extensive contribution to the University’s medical education mission. This provides an exceptionally good opportunity for thesis students and trainees to enhance their experience and credentials as educators, which important for their future careers. In addition to a host of graduate student courses, CDB faculty members develop curriculum, direct and teach major medical courses such as Building Working Cells and Tissues, Principles of Human Genetics, Development, Structure and Function (histology, anatomy, embryology, physiology, imaging), and Brain: Nervous System and Behavior, and operates the Anatomical Gift Program, a critical resource for the university’s teaching and research.

I invite you to take a closer look at our website, the mysteries of a single cell can creates a whole organism, and explore the fascinating areas Cell and Developmental Biology has to offer.

Jeanne B. Lawrence
Professor and Interim Chair
Department of Cell and Developmental Biology