NIH Scientist Joins Buck Institute's Stem Cell Program

Xianmin Zeng PhD, coaxes human embryonic stem cells to
become dopamine-producing neurons

September 22, 2005 Xianmin Zeng, PhD, has joined the Buck Institute’s Program in Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine. She will be continuing work on human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) that she began at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The passage of California’s Proposition 71 in November 2004, which provides $3 billion in funding for stem cell research, was instrumental in Zeng’s decision to move her work to the Buck Institute.  “There are a lot of opportunities in California right now and I was particularly impressed with the Buck’s Institute’s program,” said Zeng. “Their current research focus is right in line with my work in neurodegenerative disease.”

Zeng’s work involves generating dopamine-producing neurons from hESCs as a potential treatment for Parkinson’s disease and other neurological conditions.  Parkinson’s disease, a progressive disorder, develops when particular brain cells that produce the neurotransmitter dopamine, are selectively degenerated and lost in the midbrain. Dopamine allows for the smooth, coordinated function of the body's muscles and movement.

The Buck Institute has ordered federally approved hESC lines so that Zeng can continue her studies. David Greenberg, MD, PhD, Vice-President for Special Research Programs heads the Institute’s stem cell program.  “When new human embryonic stem cell lines become available, Dr. Zeng will have the groundwork set,” said Greenberg. “She’ll be ready to extend her earlier work to incorporate the new lines.”

Zeng comes to the Institute with broad-based experience working with hESCs on both the cellular and molecular level. There are considerable technical difficulties in the creation and maintenance of many lines of hESCs. Zeng helped derive a variant of one of the 22 federally approved hESCs lines now used in research in the U.S. That variant exhibits better growth characteristics and recovery from freezing than its parent line, making it easier for researchers to model how nerve cells develop.   That variant line is now available worldwide for researchers.   Zeng also helped perform one of the first transplantation experiments in a rat model of Parkinson’s disease using hESC-derived dopaminergic neurons.

“Dr. Zeng will be a perfect complement to work already done by David Greenberg and others working in our stem cell program,” said Dale Bredesen, MD, Buck Institute CEO and Scientific Director. “We have already shown that adult neuronal stem cells, those already existing in the brain, become activated after a stroke and as a result of Alzheimer’s disease.  Dr. Zeng’s work with human embryonic stem cells will allow us to tackle neurological disease states from another angle.” Bredesen added, “Dr. Zeng will be an exciting addition to our growing faculty.”

Zeng grew up in southern China and got her BSc in Chemistry in China. She received her Masters and PhD in molecular biology from the Technical University of Denmark.  She spent the past five years at the National Institutes of Aging and the National Institutes on Drug Abuse of NIH working in stem cell biology and neurobiology.

The Buck Institute is an independent non-profit organization dedicated to extending the healthspan, the healthy years of each individual’s life.  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. Collaborative research at the Institute is supported by genomics, proteomics and bioinformatics technology.

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