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A scientific metamorphosis: From butterflies to myelin

Welcome to Biomed Bites, a weekly feature that introduces readers to some of Stanford’s most innovative biomedical researchers. 

William Talbot, PhD, started out studying how caterpillars become butterflies. Now a professor of developmental biology, his research focuses on the formation of myelin, that all-important sheath that protects nerve fibers and speeds the transmission of messages.

His aims are high: By understanding the genetic foundation of myelin development, he hopes to create treatments for conditions like multiple sclerosis, which affects myelin and myelin repair.

"We don't know much about how [myelin] forms," Talbot says in the video above. "We are taking a genetic approach to try to find mutations that disrupt myelin and use these to discover new genes that might allow us to repair myelin that is disrupted."

The caterpillars were a crucial step in his own scientific development, Talbot says.

"The techniques that we use and the general logic we use to study these questions are basically the same, although the technology and specific research topics have evolved greatly," Talbot says.

Learn more about Stanford Medicine’s Biomedical Innovation Initiative and about other faculty leaders who are driving biomedical innovation here.

Previously: Face blindness stems form differences in neurocircuitry, Brain, heal thyself? Stanford research describes delayed onset of multiple sclerosis in mice and Video game accessory may help multiple sclerosis patients reduce falls, boost brain connections

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