Dr. Xianmin Zeng

The buck institute for research on aging

Dr. Zeng is exploring one of the most hopeful prospects of current biomedical research – that versatile stem cells may someday be a source of replacement cells for damaged tissues of the brain and other organs. She is working toward a treatment for Parkinson’s disease, which causes the death of nerve cells in the brain that are needed for agile and controlled muscle movement. Symptoms of the disabling malady include hand tremors and an inability to walk.

Dr. Zeng has developed methods to induce stem cells to transform into the type of nerve cells that are depleted in Parkinson’s disease. These nerve cells produce dopamine, a chemical signal that helps deliver the brain’s orders to the muscles. Her team has been able to derive such nerve cells from embryonic stem cells, and also from the modified adult cells called induced pluripotent stem cells. These induced pluripotent stem cells can mimic the versatility of embryonic stem cells.

The Zeng lab has tailored a process to make and purify its nerve cell preparations to improve their safety as potential treatments in humans. These nerve cells could also be used for the testing of potential new drugs, and for basic research on the mechanisms of disease.

Dr. Zeng earned a Ph.D. in Molecular Biology at the Technical University of Denmark and then began research on human embryonic stem cells during her postdoctoral training at the National Institutes of Health. She joined the Buck Institute in 2005. The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, the state’s stem cell research funding agency, has awarded Zeng grant funds to establish a shared research laboratory and to develop a stem cell course as well as to lead an effort to get a stem cell treatment for Parkinson’s disease ready for clinical trials.