Stanford hires director of embryonic stem cell research

Renee Reijo Pera

The School of Medicine has recruited Renee Reijo Pera, PhD, to be the new director of human embryonic stem cell research and education for the Stanford Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine.

Reijo Pera, 47, is joining Stanford from the University of California-San Francisco, where she was co-director of the human embryonic stem cell research center and director of the training program funded through the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine. In 2003 she established UCSF's embryonic stem cell program, pulling together faculty with common interests in human embryonic stem cell biology.

Reijo Pera said her new position is a perfect fit for her research interests. "The strength of the research community is tremendous at Stanford," she said, listing the strong human genetics and developmental biology programs, and the school's world-class assisted reproduction clinic. Her work will draw on the strengths of those departments to probe human developmental genetics. "The people and research are amazing."

Her primary appointment will be in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology where she will be director of human stem cell research.

Irving Weissman, MD, director of Stanford's stem cell institute, said Reijo Pera is among the leading embryonic stem cell researchers. "She brings a level of sophistication in embryonic stem cell research and the genetics of egg formation that we are excited about having here," he said. "We expect her to be a leader in our women's health programs."

Weissman said Reijo Pera's experience in establishing an embryonic stem cell program will be an asset to Stanford, where she'll be training scientists in how to work with the finicky cells, deriving new stem cell lines and working to establish collaborations among the school's researchers.

Although she's moving her lab to Stanford, Reijo Pera said she's looking forward to continuing her collaborations with UCSF colleagues. In particular, she has a joint grant with Linda Giudice, MD, PhD, who was a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Stanford before becoming chair of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive medicine at UCSF in 2005. Weissman said that when he heard Reijo Pera might leave UCSF, he called Giudice to let her know Stanford would be among those recruiting her. "I have the greatest respect for Linda Giudice, who led our early efforts at Stanford in setting up our stem cell programs, and I am excited that we will be able to continue our collaborations," he said.

One of Reijo Pera's primary interests is using embryonic stem cells to better understand the very first days of embryonic development. "To me, there is nothing more exciting than the fact that sperm and egg come together to form an embryo," she said.

She has uncovered a timeline of the earliest genes that become active in the human embryo, including those that are required for the development of the germ cells that will eventually produce sperm and eggs. Reijo Pera said this research could lead to a better understanding of infertility and common birth defects. "This is a very exciting time for studies in human developmental genetics that will translate to improvements in current clinical practices, especially in women's health," she said.

In addition to her work understanding early human development, Reijo Pera has led an effort at UCSF to develop new embryonic stem cell lines, and plans to continue this work with Stanford colleagues. A collaboration with Stanford's in vitro fertilization clinic is already under way to develop new stem cell lines from donated embryos.

Weissman said that in addition to Reijo Pera's ongoing work developing new lines from IVF blastocysts, he thinks her work could lead to new avenues of creating embryonic stem cell lines. Her research could reveal ways of differentiating embryonic stem cells into eggs that can eventually be used as an alternative to eggs donated by women.