SBP Pathways Summer 2018

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Renewed Strength Dr. Alessandra Sacco is probing the regenerative powers of muscle stem cells to find the key to maintaining muscle mass as we age During her scientific training, Alessandra Sacco, Ph.D., watched enthralled as each muscle stem cell in a petri dish made a life-altering choice: to stay the same, or to transform into something new. “At each cell division, a stem cell has to decide: Is it going to make more copies of itself, or is it going to mature into a committed cell type?” explains Sacco, associate professor in the Development, Aging and Regeneration Program at Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute (SBP), and associate dean of Curriculum for the SBP Graduate School. “That was fascinating to me. How does it choose what it wants to become?” That fundamental question has been at the heart of her research ever since. As a postdoc at Stanford University, she found ways to isolate adult skeletal muscle stem cells and provided the first definitive evidence that they can self-renew in a living organism.

skeletal muscle—something that has potential implications not only for devastating disorders like Duchenne muscular dystrophy, but also for a condition we all face: aging. “During aging, our muscles become less strong, and we’re less efficient in regenerating muscle if there is an injury,” notes Sacco, who joined SBP in 2010. “What we’re trying to understand is, how is that happening? And how can we improve the function of our muscle stem cells so we can maintain our strength and quality of life?”

Today, her lab investigates exactly how muscle stem cells repair and regenerate Alessandra Sacco, Ph.D., is an associate professor in the Development, Aging and Regeneration Program