Stem Cell Research Growing on Campus


Stem Cell Research Growing on Campus
Graduate student Monica Truelsen researches stem cells in Professor Ansel Zhao's lab.

Stem cell research is one of the fastest developing areas of scientific research in the United States, and Cal Poly Pomona is expanding its capabilities.

“Stem cell research is hot,” says Biological Sciences Professor Ansel Zhao. “People realize how important and beneficial it is to public health. For an educational institution, you definitely don't want to be blind to the latest research advances.”

Zhao and her students' experiments are part of a larger effort to improve toxicity tests of pharmaceutical drugs in order to reduce side effects. Other experiments study the potential effects of environmental chemicals on the body.

For example, biology master's student Monica Truelsen exposes adult stem cells to bisphenol-a, or BPA, a widely used chemical found in plastics, such as water bottles and food storage containers. Truelsen wants to know whether small amounts of BPA might contribute to harmful side effects, such as diabetes, obesity or bone weakening.

“Researchers have conducted experiments on mice, but we're different from mice. And we can't do human trials for this,” says Truelsen, who received her bachelor's degree from Cal Poly Pomona in 2008. “Using adult stem cells allows us to see how this compound affects humans.”

Part of Zhao's mission is to develop a sound model to test drugs and environmental chemicals and examine the side effects. Developing such a model for stem cell research would help minimize the side effects of existing drugs and improve new ones, she says.

Outside of the lab, Zhao is part of a team of professors at Cal Poly Pomona and Cal State Los Angeles that recently received a $1.5 million award from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine to expand stem cell education and research opportunities. The university will introduce new courses in tissue culture, molecular and cell biology, and immunology. Stem cells will be integrated into general biology courses for non-majors. In addition, the grant will allow select upper-level undergraduates and master's students to work at highly regarded research labs in Southern California.

Welcome to the world of health-related research at Cal Poly Pomona, where teacher-scholars guide students through extraordinary hands-on learning experiences. Their to-do list is daunting but exhilarating: disabling harmful bacteria, using stem cells to study side effects of drugs, simplifying the management of diabetes, understanding the causes of epilepsy. One experiment at a time, they add to the knowledge base of the academic community, never overstate their findings and are always excited by the possibilities. This is part of a series of articles about health-related research at Cal Poly Pomona.