Current Research Topics

Gaden Award

Prof. Kim O’Connor is presented with the 2013 Gaden Award for a high-impact paper published in Biotechnology and Bioengineering at the national meeting of the American Chemical Society by Dr. Douglas Clark, the journal’s Editor-in-Chief and Chair of the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley.

Stem Cell Technology: mesenchymal stem cells, clonal heterogeneity, cell signaling, aging and regenerative therapies

Prof. O'Connor's research is in the area of stem cell technology with the goal of improving human health through advances in regenerative medicine.  Her research focuses on the cellular heterogeneity of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs).   These are highly robust cells with broad differentiation potential that regulate the immune response and migrate to injured tissue, among other therapeutic properties.  As such, these adult stem cells have potential application to treat a wide range of disorders including arthritis, heart attack and cancer.     

The goal of Prof. O'Connor's research is to understand how MSC heterogeneity can be manipulated at the molecular level to improve the efficacy of MSC therapies.  MSCs are a heterogeneous mixture of cells with different regenerative properties.  This cell-to-cell variation impacts their effectiveness to repair damaged tissues and is a major challenge to achieve the therapeutic potential of MSCs.  Typically only the average properties of the overall MSC culture are investigated.  Instead, Prof. O'Connor takes a more engineering approach - - treating MSCs as an ensemble of distinct cell subsets.  This quantitative, systems approach provides unique insights into MSC properties, allowing the O'Connor lab to make unique contributions to the field.  This research is relevant to other types of stem cells because all stem cells are intrinsically heterogeneous.

The scope of Prof. O'Connor's research projects ranges from fundamental discovery at the cellular and molecular levels to computational analysis that resolves complex interactions among cells and signaling pathways.  With both approaches, the objective is to gain unique insight into the mechanisms by which stem cells interact with their surroundings and to employ this knowledge to develop novel strategies to regenerate tissue.  This research is inherently interdisciplinary and provides opportunities to collaborate with stem cell biologists, computer scientists and clinicians.

Prof. O'Connor received the 2013 Elmer Gaden Award from Biotechnology and Bioengineering as determined by the editorial board.  Past recipients include James Bailey, James Swartz, Jonathan Dordick, Mark Davis, and E. Terry Papoutsakis.  Clonal analysis of the proliferation potential of human bone marrow mesenchymal stem cells as a function of potency."  The paper is a seminal work that enables the resolution of MSC heterogeneity at the molecular level and serves as template to deconvolute the heterogeneity of other types of stem cells. 


KC Russell, HA Tucker, BA Bunnell, M Andreeff, W Schober, AS Gaynor, KL Strickler, S Lin, MR Lacey and KC O'Connor*. Cell-surface expression of neuron-glial antigen 2 (NG2) and melanoma cell adhesion molecule (CD146) in heterogeneous cultures of marrow-derived mesenchymal stem cells. Tissue Eng Part A, 19: 2253-66 (2013). []  

KC Russell, MR Lacey, JK Gilliam, HA Tucker, DG Phinney and KC O'Connor*. Clonal analysis of proliferation potential of human bone marrow mesenchymal stem cells as a function of potency. Biotechnol Bioeng, 108: 2716-26 (2011). [FEATURED ARTICLE; K O'Connor earned the 2013 Gaden Award from Biotechnology & Bioengineering for this article.] []

KC Russell, DG Phinney, MR Lacey, BL Barrilleaux, KE Meyertholen and KC O'Connor*. In vitro high-capacity assay to quantify the clonal heterogeneity in trilineage potential of mesenchymal stem cells reveals a complex hierarchy of lineage commitment. Stem Cells, 28: 788-98 (2010). [Among Top 50 Downloaded Articles in Stem Cells for March 2010, 100+ Citations] []

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