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This profile was last updated on 2/6/15  and contains information from public web pages and contributions from the ZoomInfo community.

Dr. Helen M. Blau Ph.D.

Wrong Dr. Helen M. Blau Ph.D.?

Professor of Microbiology and Imm...

Stanford University
450 Via Palou
Stanford , California 94305
United States

Company Description: The Stanford Technology Ventures Program is dedicated to accelerating high-technology entrepreneurship education and creating scholarly research on technology-based...   more

Employment History

Board Memberships and Affiliations


  • Ph.D. , biology
    Harvard University
  • B.A.
    University of York
  • M.A. , biology
    Harvard University
  • PhD
186 Total References
Web References
Recently, Stanford University scientist ..., 6 Feb 2015 [cached]
Recently, Stanford University scientist Helen Blau announced a new procedure that can increase the length of telomeres, turning back the clock of cultured cells. Her lab's treated cells behave like much younger cells, multiplying with abandon in the lab dish rather than stagnating or dying.
The process has been discovered by ..., 3 Feb 2015 [cached]
The process has been discovered by Helen Blau of Stanford University, who was senior author on a paper describing the procedure with John Ramunas of Stanford and Eduard Yakubov from the Houston Methodist Research Institute.
"Now we have found a way to lengthen human telomeres by as much as 1,000 nucleotides, turning back the internal clock in these cells by the equivalent of many years of human life," said Helen Blau, who is also professor of microbiology and immunology at Stanford and director of the university's Baxter Laboratory for Stem Cell Biology.
To make this discovery, Blau ..., 26 Jan 2015 [cached]
To make this discovery, Blau and colleagues delivered modified mRNA encoding TERT - the enzyme that increases the length of telomeres by adding DNA repeats - to four groups of cells.
"We hope that these findings will help prevent, delay or treat age-related conditions and diseases, as well as certain devastating genetic diseases of inadequate telomere maintenance," explained Helen M. Blau, director of the Baxter Laboratory for Stem Cell Biology at Stanford University's School of Medicine.
To make this discovery, Blau and colleagues delivered modified mRNA encoding TERT - the enzyme that increases the length of telomeres by adding DNA repeats - to four groups of cells.
Unwilling to accept the finality of ..., 1 Oct 2012 [cached]
Unwilling to accept the finality of terminal differentiation, Helen Blau has honed techniques that showcase the flexibility of cells to adopt different identities.
HELEN BLAU: Director of the Baxter Laboratory for Stem Cell Biology, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Stanford University School of MedicinePenney Gilbert
Helen Blau was born in London and holds dual citizenship in the United States and the U.K. But she spent most of her childhood in Europe. "I loved that my family traveled so much," says Blau, who attended summer schools in the Swiss Alps and lived with French and Austrian families. "The experience made me adventurous, encouraged me to take risks, and exposed me to different languages and cultures-all of which shaped my development."
That same sense of unlimited possibilities ultimately guided her science. "I enjoy taking on new things," says Blau. And she's not afraid to question dogma."When I was a student-an undergraduate and then graduate student-the dogma was that once mammalian cells were differentiated, that was it.
Using a technique that involves fusing cells from two different species, Blau found that she could coax differentiated cells to adopt a new fate, reactivating genes that had been developmentally silenced. Here she discusses the mechanisms of reprogramming, the farming of seaweed, and the dance of the stem cells.
Blau at work "I didn't like the idea that decisions were terminal. So I set out to find out whether cell fate was irreversibly determined." Not just for frogs. As an undergraduate "I started thinking about the plasticity of cells and whether they could change their fate," says Blau.
In the 1980s Blau chose a different path to show that the cells of mammals are also plastic: melding whole cells from different species and allowing the regulatory factors present in one cell to reprogram the expression of genes in the other. In the 1950s and '60s, a handful of investigators had used the technique to demonstrate the activity of gene repressors. "They showed, for instance, that rat albumin was shut off when you fused a rat hepatocyte with a mouse fibroblast," says Blau. So some factor present in the fibroblast shut down the activity of a liver-specific gene like albumin. As the fused cell divided and chromosomes were lost-interspecies hybrids suffer from serious chromosomal instability-the albumin gene would be turned back on. "So there was clearly a repressor that was being made and then lost," says Blau. "What I wanted to do was see if, instead of repressing an active gene, you could activate a gene that was silenced. The dogma was that you couldn't. Some of the giants in the field had tried. But in the system in which fused cells are allowed to divide and chromosomes can be thrown out, Blau says, "you don't know whether you've activated a gene because you lost a repressor or because you found an activator."
Sticking together. To get around this confounding chromosomal conundrum, Blau chose conditions that discouraged cell division-keeping her culture medium mitogen-free and using muscle cells, which don't proliferate. And she stacked the odds in muscle's favor, so that the resulting multinucleate hybrids, known as heterokaryons, would contain, say, three mouse muscle cells fused with a single human amniocyte (an embryonic cell isolated from amniotic fluid). What she found was that the union caused the non-muscle cell to join with its muscle-cell partners in expressing muscle-specific genes. "This was the first reprogramming of a human cell and activation of silenced human genes," says Blau, whose Stanford team described these and related results in Cell papers in 1983, '84, and '85.
Blau has recently resuscitated this approach to activate the genetic program typical of induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells. By fusing a mouse embryonic stem cell with a human fibroblast, she has activated the fibroblast's pluripotency program. "It's going to help how people can look at reprogramming in a mechanistic way," she says. Because the method is so rapid and efficient-75 percent of the heterokaryons show signs of reprogramming within a period of two days-it can be used to probe the series of genetic changes that pave the way to pluripotency. Using novel bi-species RNA sequencing technologies to catalog the transcripts-and to determine whether they came from the human-fibroblast half of the heterokaryon-Blau and her team have already identified a gene involved in DNA demethylation that's necessary for the activation of the key pluripotency genes, work described in Nature in 2010. Now, she's working toward "making the system more accessible, so people can use it to start to understand the mechanisms of reprogramming and more effectively obtain their favorite cell type."
Seeing stem cells. "One of our goals is to see whether we can enlist stem cells that exist in the body to help repair tissues," says Blau. Muscle-a mainstay in the lab-has proven particularly challenging. "Muscle stem cells can't be proliferated in culture because when they're put on typical plastic culture dishes they lose their 'stemness.' So we're trying to recapitulate their natural niche and ask 'How does a stem cell see the world?'" One factor is the rigidity of the micro-environment that supports the cells. "Muscle is five orders of magnitude softer than plastic. But when isolated stem cells are grown on a soft, hydrated gel-developed by the Blau lab-"they maintain their stem-cell function. Using this cell-friendly hydrogel culture system, Blau says, "we can now screen for small molecules or proteins that can influence stemness, self-renewal, expansion, and rejuvenation. In fact, she maintains that soon no one will want to grow their cells on tissue culture plastic.
The way the researchers monitor the properties of the cultured stem cells is via another innovative approach, this one involving bioluminescence imaging. By labeling the stem cells with luciferase-the enzyme that gives fireflies their twinkle-Blau and her colleagues can trace their trajectories through live animals by seeing which mice glow. Even when the investigators introduced only a single stem cell into each mouse, Blau says a handful "engrafted to high enough levels that we could detect them by bioluminescence imaging, which means they had expanded to make many more stem cells. Some of the progeny of these single cell transplants had incorporated into muscle fibers, "so they met the quintessential definition of a stem cell: they not only self-renewed, they also differentiated."
Blau bulletins "Because facts change all the time, what is really important is knowing how to communicate and be able to make a logical argument in support of a theory." Call for rumination. Blau experienced a bit of culture shock when she came to the U.S. as a graduate student at Harvard.
But when it comes to bridging disciplines, Blau doesn't stop there. She recently convinced Sebastian Thrun, the co-inventor of Google Street View, to help her develop algorithms for tracking cell movement and division. "He's done all this macro-imaging, and we got him interested in micro-imaging," she says.
The videos of cells in culture used to develop these algorithms have attracted even more unusual trainees to Blau's group.
Blau enjoys brief mini-sabbaticals-like a couple of months in Paris.
As a postdoc at the University of California, San Francisco, Blau did some genetic counseling for families with diseases such as Duchenne muscular dystrophy.
While a graduate student, Blau sang in a band.
"You always feel that you're not spending enough time in the lab-or enough time with your children," says Blau. But making the effort can yield wide-ranging benefits. "I think that I was a better scientist because I had wonderful children to go home to. And I was a better mother because not all of my dreams and goals were invested in my children. Blau is married to Stanford psychiatrist David Spiegel. "Choosing the right partner, one who is supportive of your career and family goals, is absolutely crucial."
Have kids, will travel. Blau and her husband have included their children in family adventures from an early age. "They became the best travelers. I remember when my son was 3, we arrived in Oregon and there was no bed for him. We pulled out a drawer and put in some towels and he said, 'This is ideal.'?" Years later, on a trip to Bali, Blau and her family spent time in a village where tourists rarely ventured.
A Foundation Building Strength - Team, 20 Jan 2015 [cached]
Helen Blau, Ph.D.
Helen Blau is the Donald E. and Delia B. Baxter Professor for Stem Cell Biology at the School of Medicine at Stanford University.
Dr. Blau is an elected member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a fellow of the American Academy for the Advancement of Sciences and a recipient of numerous national and international awards. Her research expertise is in the area of nuclear reprogramming and stem cell biology, and she is renowned for her work on muscle stem cells and tissue regeneration in normal and dystrophic muscle of mice and humans.
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