Message from the Director

This is an incredibly exciting stage in the study of stem cell biology, as it intersects with and invigorates the field of regenerative medicine. At the Black Family Stem Cell Institute, we are on the cusp of major milestones in both basic discoveries and clinical applications. Recent efforts to map the “epigenome” of stem cells and the exploration of how transcription factors influence cell fate have revealed fundamental structural underpinnings of stem cells and shed light on cell functions in general. In the next three to five years, we can expect a revolution in our understanding of the inner workings of the networks and pathways that enable cells to remain stable and responsive.

We have also seen the advent of technologies like cellular programming and reprogramming, gene editing, advanced biophysical tools, imaging and optogenetics. The knowledge we gain at the cellular level will have ramifications for the understanding and treatment of such devastating illnesses as Parkinson's disease, heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. We are already seeing clinical trials utilize both pluripotent stem-cell-derived products and adult cell products. The results of these studies will not only accelerate the development of treatments but will also feed back into the laboratory, stimulating new insights into cell function and cell pathology.

True discovery is impossible to predict, but research on every stem cell, every molecule, and every phenotype carries great potential to reveal the secrets of embryonic development and new ways to vanquish disease.

If you want to be part of the revolution, come join us. We welcome faculty, collaborators, trainees, subjects for clinical trials, and philanthropic supporters. 

- Thomas Zwaka, MD, PhD

About Thomas Zwaka, MD, PhD

Thomas Zwaka, MD, PhD, is internationally recognized for his work on pluripotent stem cells, the “master” cells that have the potential to produce any type of cell the body needs to repair or regenerate its tissues.

The Zwaka Lab’s main line of research investigates ways to direct pluripotent stem cells to replace human cells affected by injury or disease.

Dr. Zwaka was recruited to Mount Sinai in 2013 to become Professor of Developmental and Regenerative Biology. Within a year, he established the Huffington Foundation Center for Cell-Based Research in Parkinson’s Disease, which he also directs, as a collaborative effort to develop better treatments for this all-too common neurodegenerative disease.

After earning his MD and PhD degrees from Ulm University in Germany, Dr. Zwaka trained as a cardiologist and discovered the link between C-reactive protein and atherosclerotic inflammation, a connection that has had enormous importance for cardiology.  Dr. Zwaka then went to the University of Wisconsin to do his postdoctoral fellowship in the lab of Jamie Thomson, who derived the first human embryonic stem cell line in 1998.

In Thomson’s lab, Dr. Zwaka pioneered methods to genetically manipulate stem cells, resulting in studies noted in publications that have been cited more than a thousand times. He then joined the faculty of Baylor College of Medicine, serving in both the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology and in the Center for Cell and Gene Therapy. Within a few years, he became Co-Director of the Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine Center. At Baylor, the Zwaka Lab discovered a key regulator of pluripotency that behaved so differently from canonical stem cell factors that it was named Ronin.