Former NIH Stem Cell Chief Establishes Laboratory at Buck Institute

Mahendra S. Rao, MD, PhD named as Adjunct Faculty

January 14, 2008  Embryonic stem cell scientist Mahendra S. Rao, MD, PhD has joined the Buck Institute for Age Research as an adjunct faculty member. The well-known former National Institutes of Health (NIH) stem cell chief will head a laboratory focused on studying the pathways in which human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) self renew and differentiate.

Rao, who is also Vice President for Research at Invitrogen Corporation, will spend two to three days each month at the Institute. He will supervise the work in his lab with the assistance of Buck faculty member Xianmin Zeng, PhD, who has her own lab focused on the use of hESCs as a potential treatment for Parkinson’s disease.

Rao’s laboratory will examine two critical issues in stem cell biology – how stem cells transform to become cancerous, and how hESCs escape the aging process. “I am particularly drawn to the Buck Institute’s interdisciplinary approach to research,” said Rao. “There are many points where research focused on the aging process and research involving hESCs intersect.” Rao added, “The Institute’s efforts to understand the link between aging and disease holds great of promise for human health; I look forward to bringing my expertise to bear on those efforts.”

Rao resigned as Section Chief of Stem Cells at the National Institute on Aging at the NIH in 2005, saying the U.S. ban on federal funding on new hESC lines posed a barrier to his research goals. He still advises the U.S., Singapore and India governments on hESC policy.  Rao, who has taught more classes on hESCs than anyone else in the U.S., will help direct four week-long courses each year at the Buck Institute to train scientists on how to culture and use hESCs.

“We are very enthusiastic about Dr. Rao research plans at the Buck Institute, which should synergize with the Institute’s interdisciplinary research on aging,” said Dale Bredesen, MD, CEO and Director of the Buck Institute. “His expertise will allow us to capitalize further on the potential of stem cell research as we work toward our larger objective of extending the healthy years of life.”

Rao has published more than 100 papers on stem cell research. He also has an extensive background teaching medical and graduate students, as well as postdoctoral  fellows at institutions including The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, The National Centre for Biological Sciences in Bangalore, India, and the University of Utah School of Medicine. He received his MD from Bombay University in India and his PhD in developmental neurobiology from the California Institute of Technology.

The Buck Institute is an independent non-profit organization dedicated to extending the healthspan, the healthy years of each individual’s life.  The National Institute on Aging designated the Buck a Nathan Shock Center of Excellence in the Biology of Aging, one of just five centers in the country. Buck Institute scientists work in an innovative, interdisciplinary setting to understand the mechanisms of aging and to discover new ways of detecting, preventing and treating age-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, cancer, stroke, and arthritis. Collaborative research at the Institute is supported by genomics, proteomics and bioinformatics technology.

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