An End Run in Harvard Stem-cell Research

Harvard Magazine, February-January 2010:  Jonathan Shaw, Managing Editor of Harvard Magazine is the author of “Tools and Tests, The Evolution of Stem-Cell Research”.

In this article, Mr. Shaw highlights what Harvard researchers are doing at the forefront of this research.  Among the researchers is Cabot Professor of the Natural Sciences, Douglas Melton.  One way Melton has “dealt with the problem (“of directing the process of differentiation in ES (embryonic) cells or iPS  (pluripotent cells”)  is to do and end run around the whole process.”

“Instead of resetting a cell to a pluripotent  (in which a cell could become any cell in the body) state and then trying to contol the ensuing cascade of cellular divisions to create a particular type of cell, he attempted to change one adult cell into another–in a living animal.  In 2008, using three transcription factors (a class of genes known to regulate cell fate during early development), he and postdoctoral fellow Quiao “Joe” Xhou succeded in trasforming a common type of pancreatic cell in mice into insulin-producing beta cells.  This was a stunning achivement in what is now called direct reprogramming, the process of determining which genes are turned on and off in the cell…”   p. 28

In the game of American football an end run occurs when an offensive man goes around the end of the opponent’s defensive line.  In business this could occur when an employee “goes around” his or her immediate supervisor to a higher authority.  In this case a brilliant end run by a Harvard researcher shortens a biological process.

For a short description of the game of American football and more literal sports terms and their metaphorical meanings go to


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