Stem cell speaker first in lecture series

Verfaillie is a University professor and director of the Stem Cell Institute.

Jamie VanGeest

On Tuesday, Catherine Verfaillie was the first woman honored and the first women chosen to share her wisdom as a researcher for the Ada Comstock Distinguished Women Scholars Lecture Series.

Verfaillie is a University stem cell researcher, professor and the director of the University’s Stem Cell Institute.

Her research focuses on hemopoietic cells, which form the blood and bone marrow cells in the human body. Verfaillie has also studied the resiliency of stem cells for the past four years.

“She is known nationally and internationally for her pioneering work in stem cell research,” said Claire Walter-Marchetti, the director for the Office for University Women.

Verfaillie won the University’s Distinguished Women’s Scholar Award in 2003. Also, Verfaillie was named one of the top 10 innovators of 2001.

Her lecture was titled, “The Promise and Pitfall of Stem Cell Research.”

To an audience of students, faculty, staff and community members, Verfaillie explained the basics of stem cell research and the ethics surrounding the issue.

“It’s a blank slate that hasn’t been taught to do anything in particular, but it could do everything,” Verfaillie said.

She also pointed out how stem cells are unique because they don’t age and can renew themselves limitlessly.

“In mice, stem cells can make all 220 cells… including the germ cells, the sperm and the egg,” Verfaillie said as she explained some of the findings from stem cell research.

Many students majoring in science fields came to the lecture to hear Verfaillie speak about her research.

“I think gene therapy is interesting and the ethics related to stem cell research,” said microbiology sophomore Rebecca Marcus.

Jeff Kendall, a microbiology sophomore, said he too thinks stem cell research is interesting and difficult.

First-year student Kyla Patek came to find out what kinds of stem cell research the professor is doing.

The lecture series was named in honor of Ada Comstock, the University’s first dean of women.

Comstock was the first president of the Association of University Women and in 1923 became the first woman appointed president of Radcliffe College, which in those days was an all-woman college at Harvard University.

“Her impact for women in higher education goes beyond Minnesota, but has Minnesota roots,” Marchetti said.

The lecture series was created to highlight the research, scholarship, teaching and leadership of women at the University, she said

The series will be held twice a year and will feature female lecturers who have won awards for their work at the University.