Elizabeth and Michael Gallagher Family Assistant Professor of Adult Stem Cell Research
Dr. Athanasia D. Panopoulos received dual undergraduate degrees in Chemistry and Biochemistry from the University of Michigan before earning her M.S. and Ph.D. in Immunology from the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. She then performed her postdoctoral work in Stem Cell Biology at The Salk Institute before starting her own research group at the University of Notre Dame in January of 2014.
During development, embryonic stem cells differentiate into the various cell types that comprise the body, resulting in a loss of lineage potential as cells become more committed and functionally restricted. This process was always thought to be unidirectional. However, the Nobel prize-winning discovery that mature adult cells could actually be reprogrammed back into an embryonic-like state (Takahashi and Yamanaka, 2006), forever altered the initially restricted view of cellular plasticity, and enabled researchers new ways to study development and disease.
Dr. Panopoulos’ research combines her training in stem cell biology, blood cell development and cancer to utilize the process of reprogramming to address two main long-term goals: (1) To make blood stem cells in a dish that are capable of fully reconstituting the entire blood system. Why blood? If scientists were able to successfully make blood stem cells, then it is the hope that patients in need of a bone marrow transplant would no longer have to wait to find a bone marrow matched donor, and numerous blood diseases could be treated in ways they were not able to before, and (2) To strategically target cancer cells that behave as stem cells. It is thought that for some types of malignancies, cancer cells that acquire “stem cell” properties are contributing to relapse. Reprogramming allows the ability to study how cancer cells may be doing this, in hopes of being able to target these cells and prevent malignant relapse.
This is one of three professorships in adult stem cell research, established by Mike (’91 ND) and Liz (’92 SMC) Gallagher. These new faculty lines will have a positive impact on the treatment and possible cure of spinal cord injuries and degenerative illnesses including Type 1 diabetes, Parkinson’s, macular degeneration, and cardiovascular disease.