Dr. Hanna Mikkola, Judith Gasson, Renee Fraser, Dr. Owen Witte & Dr. Gay Crooks
Miracles in the making. This is the inspirational promise of the Eli and Edyth Broad Center for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research. On May 9, The Trusteeship gathered to tour the facility and learn more about the incredible work that it houses. Member Judith Gasson, Director of UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, made this unique opportunity possible and we were graciously hosted by UCLA.
During the tour of the research center, more than 26,000 square feet of state-of-the-art resources, we were able to hear from many of the doctors and staff about their work in various areas of stem cell research. We transitioned to the Faculty Center and continued to fill our minds, as well as our stomachs! The staff presentation came after dinner, starting with Dr. Owen Witte, UCLA Broad Stem Cell Research Center Director, who shared his ongoing vision for the center. “I have put a lot of effort into developing the structure, the ambiance and the resources to enable faculty here to develop ideas that create impact and value.”
We heard from two faculty who shared in this effort; Gay Crooks, Co-Director and Associate Professor Hanna Mikkola. Hanna described her research that enabled the conversion of blood forming tissues into heart cells. There was a collective gasp of awe in the room when she showed a video of the cells being put into culture dishes. The cells literally started beating! “I had never seen anything like that before and I don’t think I ever will again,” Hanna told us about the discovery. We also gained a new appreciation for the thymus, which Gay touted as her “favorite organ”. We learned the thymus is responsible for producing T-cells and helping our immune system. Gay is researching ways to use the thymus and transplantation to manipulate the immune system in order to fight diseases. She laughed, “It’s a much neglected organ, I must say!”
Throughout the night, we were struck by the staff’s dedication to changing the future of modern medicine. “You each have a passion for something that kept you going when someone else would have given up. You walk to the unknown and trust your gut.” Hanna noted. “We have to do that too, every day. We have to just KNOW that there is something there, and when you finally experience it, well there is nothing like that.” It certainly was an honor to learn and share in that motivating vision.