Learning to re-programme stem cells at the Salk Institute

Erin Paterson and Dr Swee Tan at the Plimmerton Rotary Club.

Stem cells differ from other kinds of cells. Unlike muscle cells, blood cells, or nerve cells, for example, stem cells can divide and renew themselves.

This property potentially allows us to create an endless supply of disease stem cells from a single piece of disease tissue, meaning we can study a particular disease for as long as we need to. But, before we can do this, we need to ‘re-programme’ the mature cells found in disease tissue — bringing them back to a primitive, embryonic-like form.

One of our research technicians, Erin Paterson, is currently studying how to re-programme stem cells at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in San Diego, in the United States. The Salk Institute has world-class facilities and researchers who are highly experienced in stem cell re-programming, enabling Erin to learn and fully master this valuable technique.

On her return to New Zealand, Erin will pass on her new knowledge to the rest of the GMRI’s laboratory staff. We’ll immediately start to benefit from the expertise of the cancer researchers in the Salk Institute, but we hope to make the benefit of our trans-Pacific relationship long-lasting. We see great potential for future collaborations as we each work to progress and share our understanding of causes and treatment for a range of cancers.

We’re extremely grateful to the Rotary Clubs of Plimmerton, Eastern Hutt, Johnsonville, Karori, Petone, and Tawa, who collectively sponsored Erin’s trip to San Diego.