Developmental biology and regenerative medicine

Sixty percent of chronic diseases in children stem from abnormalities in development. That makes developmental biology the basic science of pediatrics, the key to understanding what goes wrong — and how we can fix it.

What is developmental and cell biology?

Between fertilization and adulthood, a myriad of changes under genetic control result in the development of a unique individual from a single fertilized cell. Developmental biology studies the formation of that individual, including the construction of tissues and organs.

For the translational pediatric investigator, abnormalities that affect tissue differentiation, organogenesis and morphogenesis are a significant component of chronic disease. Although researchers have not yet delineated all critical development pathways, there appear to be a finite number of genetically determined programs that fail to operate correctly in the case of common developmental disorders.

Cell biology is an enabling technology as well as a research theme. Each organ of the body is made up of multiple cell types, where congenital and acquired diseases are often found. The comparative and detailed study of the precise cells adversely affected by disease allows us to understand critically affected intracellular signaling pathways.

That’s valuable data for translational researchers — it can help us identify key molecules that could be modified or replaced as part of targeted therapies. Cell biological approaches provide a functional read-out for genomics, identifying the functional effects of a single normal or defective gene product, determining how different protein products interact with one another in complexes and networks, and defining the influences of different cell types upon one another within an organ during specific stages of development.

Research highlights

Children’s Research Institute and the Medical College of Wisconsin are home to a vigorous and growing program in developmental biology, with more than 20 labs studying diverse aspects of embryogenesis and stem cell biology. This research plays a critical role in analyzing the mechanisms causing disease in children, ultimately allowing early intervention and prevention of diseases. Examples of developmental and cell biology research underway at Children’s Research Institute include:

  • One of two national Research Centers of Excellence in Pediatric Nephrology
  • Identification of new molecular targets and technologies for treating defects of kidney development
  • Innovative studies using the zebrafish model to study the action of genes on organ development
  • A study of early neurocrest cells and their potential role in childhood malignancy or malformation
  • Creation of histology and imaging cores to support the developmental and cell biology investigators