Stem cells, which can create copies of themselves that differentiate into many of the myriad cell types that form the body’s tissues and organs, have been much in the news as a potentially powerful treatment for diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, heart disease, spinal cord injury and other serious illnesses.

In August the School of Medicine announced that the Yale Stem Cell Program (YSCP), a new initiative to accelerate the exploration of the unique properties and therapeutic potential of these cells, will be headed by Haifan Lin, Ph.D., one of the country’s leading stem cell biologists.

Lin and YSCP Associate Director Diane S. Krause, M.D., Ph.D., an associate professor of laboratory medicine and pathology and an expert on bone marrow stem cells, will oversee a group of a half-dozen scientists and an administrative and technical staff devoted to research on human embryonic and adult stem cells, as well as stem cells in the mouse, fruit fly and roundworm.

The program will also provide a scientific hub for more than 30 additional faculty members across the medical school and university campuses who work on stem cell-related topics. Over the next few years, the YSCP will grow with the recruitment of four additional faculty members.

Three core research facilities are now being put in place: a human embryonic stem cell culture laboratory directed by Lin and Krause; a cell sorting center directed by Mark J. Shlomchik, M.D., Ph.D., professor of laboratory medicine and immunobiology; and a confocal microscopy laboratory directed by Michael H. Nathanson, M.D., Ph.D., professor of medicine and cell biology. The YSCP will eventually occupy one floor of the Amistad Building on the southern edge of the medical school campus, which is now under construction and slated for occupancy next year.

Lin served most recently as co-founder and co-director of the Stem Cell Research Program at Duke University. He received his undergraduate degree from Fudan University in Shanghai, China, and his Ph.D. degree from Cornell University in 1990. He completed his postdoctoral training at the Carnegie Institution of Washington before joining the Department of Cell Biology at Duke University Medical Center in 1994.

Lin’s research has greatly strengthened understanding of the molecular mechanisms that underlie the unique characteristics of stem cells.

Through his discovery of stem cells in the ovary of the fruit fly and his establishment of these cells as a research tool, Lin obtained direct evidence for the century-old hypothesis of “asymmetric division” as the means by which stem cells can both self-renew and produce daughter cells with the ability to differentiate into many distinct cell types. Lin has also discovered key genes that regulate stem cell division.

“Haifan Lin is a preeminent scientist whose research on the most basic mechanisms of stem cell biology has had a tremendous impact on the field,” says Dean and Ensign Professor Robert J. Alpern, M.D. “He has the broad perspective needed to lead this exciting new effort at Yale.”