Neural stem cells, or stem cells from the brain, present an opportunity to replace cells lost to neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson's and multiple sclerosis.
It's one reason why Sasha Bakhru (E'09), now a biomedical engineering post-doc at Carnegie Mellon University, has undertaken research in the field of stem cells — which offer hope for people with a variety of diseases and disorders for which traditional medicine hasn't succeeded.
"I feel privileged to work in such a rich field at a time when real clinical advances are on the horizon," said Bakhru, who stresses the importance of a fellowship he received, which was established by Philip (E'63) and Marsha Dowd for graduate students in the university's Institute for Complex Engineered Systems.
"The Dowd-ICES Fellowship was extremely important because it enabled me and my advisor, Professor Stefan Zappe, to undertake research on neural stem cells for which there was no funding when I joined Carnegie Mellon," he explained. "The Dowds took a chance on us and it has lead to exciting research results."
Those results include winning the Global Moot Corp Competition and ringing the opening bell at NASDAQ.
"The Dowds don't just offer funding; they are sincerely interested in the success of their Fellowship projects and participants, and over the past two years have offered me invaluable guidance," Bakhru said.
Bakhru began working with adult stem cells during an internship at the Johns Hopkins Division of Biomedical Sciences in Singapore. There, he quickly realized the impact such work could have on the lives of people with neurodegenerative disease.
At Carnegie Mellon, he enrolled in Surgery for Engineers with Jim Burgess, M.D., a neurosurgeon at Allegheny General Hospital, who introduced him to neurosurgeon Raymond Sekula, M.D.
"I have since been working closely with clinicians on translational research, most recently with Hillard Lazarus, M.D. (E'70) a pioneering researcher in the field of stem cell therapies," he noted. "It is this work and these relationships that drive me to continue in this field."
Bakhru hopes that some day in the future their work with neural stem cells will enable therapies for neurodegenerative disease.
"Today we focus on Parkinson's disease and are excited about the prospects of a stem cell-based therapy that could replace the neurons damaged by, or lost to, the disease in the future."