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In the Spotlight: Working toward pure populations of stem cells

This In the Spotlight features Kyle Loh, a stem cell researcher who is working to create pure populations of cells. He also enjoys road bicycling.

Stem cells give rise to a world of potential. Embryonic stem cells, for instance, can specialize into nearly any cell in the body: from blood, to brain, to muscle, opening doors for therapeutic applications. The problem, however, is that it's tricky to coax these cells to mature into a specific cell type.

That's where researcher Kyle Loh, PhD, comes in. Originally from New Jersey, he came to Stanford in 2011, earned a PhD, and is now an assistant professor of developmental biology.

I spoke with him to learn more about his research and life in science.

What is your research focus?

My lab's work now extends from my PhD focus on embryonic stem cells. The work I'm doing now has been how to figure out how to turn embryonic stem cells into pure populations of different types of cells.

What have been some outcomes of your research?

We have made tremendous progress. For instance, we've been able to make nearly pure populations of human liver cells in a petri dish, and then inject these cells into a mouse, and we've seen the regeneration of liver tissue that partially rescues a mouse from liver failure. We've also made human bone cells that, when injected into a mouse, regenerate bone and cartilage.

Why did you go into science?

When I was in kindergarten, I read a science encyclopedia. In first grade, I read a book about the human body, through which I became fascinated by the immune system. Then, second grade, I read a book on Ebola virus, and that's really how I got into things in the realm of science.

I was also very lucky that at around age 13, I had the unusual opportunity to take courses in community college. I graduated at age 16 with my bachelor's from Rutgers University, the state university of New Jersey.

What's better -- East Coast or West Coast?

There's definitely a lot more sunshine here. But a part of the Bay Area and Stanford that has stood out to me is the collaborative atmosphere. A lot of the work that I've talked about was uniquely enabled because I could collaborate with other Stanford scientists, who are experts in those areas. It's been a huge amount of fun.

What does a normal day look like for you?

It definitely varies. Since I recently started my faculty career, I spend a lot of time in the lab working on experiments. I also dedicate a lot of time to reading scientific literature, teaching, writing grants, as well as mentoring students in my lab. I really value the dynamic of my lab -- it's comprised of only six of us and it's a very tight knit group.

What are you looking forward to?

I'm really excited about a current experiment in which we are hoping to generate new human blood in a petri dish from embryonic stem cells. This is really exciting because we can make all kinds of blood cells patients need, like red blood cells, platelets, and special immune cells called T cells. Being able to mass produce T cells, for instance, would be very useful in treating cancer and for immunotherapy.

How do you unwind?

I enjoy road biking, which is a hobby I picked up at Stanford. A number of colleagues and I go road biking on the weekends, which is a lot of fun, and the scenery around Stanford is perfect for it.

What are you reading now?

I most recently read Ahead of the Curve, a book about the Nobel Laureate David Baltimore, PhD, and his life in science. It shows he was a very, very intense person, especially in his younger days when he made most of his discoveries.

What are your favorite foods?

That's an easy one: steak. Specifically prime rib.

Do you have a mantra you live by?

Whatever you want to do in life requires your full commitment, so that whatever you set your mind to, you can do it well.

Photo by Chris Vaughan

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