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Stanford researchers named 2017 STAT Wunderkinds

Picking out scientists — or musicians, designers or most anyone — before their great discovery, amazing insight or groundbreaking innovation, is, needless to say, tricky -- an attempt to foretell the future. But there are some superstars that just stand out.

Ten such scientists, including two currently at Stanford, are among those named as 2017 STAT Wunderkinds by STAT News, the relatively new biomedical news organization.

Anca Pasca, MD, a neonatology fellow, is one of Stanford's Wunderkinds. She's hard at work trying to develop strategies to ward off many of the neurodevelopmental problems that plague premature babies throughout their lives. STAT describes her work:

In the lab, she coaxed skin cells into becoming induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPS cells. She then steered those immature cells into becoming the kind of cells found in the developing brain of a baby with a gestational age of 22 to 24 weeks, around the threshold of viability.

'What I have now,' Pasca says, 'is an extremely preterm human brain in a dish.'

She’s now using that model to study how insufficient oxygen, common in premature babies, harms the developing brain — and how to prevent that damage.

Shane Liddelow, PhD, who is wrapping up is postdoctoral fellowship in the lab of Ben Barres, MD, PhD, was also named a Wunderkind. He studies astrocytes -- a group of heterogeneous cells that outnumber neurons in the brain.

Work by Barres, Liddelow and others has shown they affect brain health. This February, he plans to launch his own lab at New York University Langone Health devoted to understanding the role astrocytes in different states play in central nervous system injury or disease, with the goal of developing new therapies.

Liddelow's route to neuroscience was a curious one, as the STAT article documents:

As a college student, Liddelow was robbed and suffered a concussion. He went to the hospital — where doctors discovered and repaired an unrelated aneurysm that he said could have killed him if it had gone undetected. While on the surgical bed, he found himself fascinated by the image of his brain on the monitor — setting him down the path to becoming a neuroscientist.

Previously: Long-term, 3-D culture method lets slow developing brain cells mature in a dishRare gene variants help explain preemies' lung disease, Stanford study shows and Stanford-led study suggests changes to brain scanning guidelines for preemies
Photo by Dan Gold

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