Research in the Meyer lab focuses on the use of human induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells for studies of nervous system development and disease. iPS cells are a unique type of stem cell generated by reprogramming somatic cell types such as skin fibroblasts to become stem cells that can become any cell type of the body. As such, they serve as a novel platform for studies of neural development, disease progression, drug screening, and cellular repopulation. Current projects in the Meyer lab utilize numerous experimental approaches to answer important questions in the following two categories:
Retinal Fate Acquisition from Human iPS cells. The acquisition of a retinal fate from an undifferentiated stem cell population proceeds through a number of developmental stages before a mature phenotype is specified. However, the factors underlying these decisions remain somewhat unidentified. Our previous studies have illustrated that human iPS cells can faithfully recapitulate each of the major stages of human retinogenesis, providing a unique in vitro model system with which to study the development of the retina. The knowledge gained from such experimental approaches will allow for a greater ability to control the differentiation of stem cells toward a particular retinal fate for future translational applications.
Modeling Diseases of the Nervous System Using iPS cells. In addition to the ability of iPS cells to study the development of particular cell types, these cells can also be used as a novel in vitro system for studies of human disease. Through the derivation of iPS cells from the somatic cells of patients with known genetic diseases, the potential exists to differentiate these cells to the cell types affected by the disease process. Throughout this differentiation process, it is possible to study the onset and progression of diseases in the particular cell types affected by the disorder. Such a system also allows for the generation of customized stem cells from individual patients, as well as pharmacological screening with the goal of identifying novel compounds with potential beneficial effects on the disease process.