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Brains Behind the Institute

Sergiu Pasca

Sergiu Pasca

Assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and Bonnie Uytengsu and Family Director of the Stanford Brain Organogenesis Program

Once you get infected with the "virus of scientific discovery," it's impossible to recover. Seeing something for the first time, discovering phenomena that nobody else has ever understood, is really exciting—and above everything else, fun.

This can be particularly rewarding when combined with a strong desire to change disease outcomes, and the opportunity to work with exceptional students who are motivated to make a difference.

We still don’t know enough about the way the human brain develops and matures or how mental disorders arise in the brain. My lab uses skin cells from patients, then turns them back in time so that they resemble the pluripotent stem cells that all of our cells come from. Then, with techniques that we've developed here at Stanford, we guide those cells to self-organize into brain-like tissue in a dish. This generates blobs of cells that resemble specific brain regions which can be further combined into structures assembloids to study cross-talk in the brain, allowing us to ask questions about what makes the human brain unique and how genes related to psychiatric disorders lead to disease in patients. It's a unique opportunity to mechanistically understand neuropsychiatric disorders, such as autism and schizophrenia.

One of the greatest challenges and opportunities for this new field of research is its inter-disciplinarity—the fact that is it at the intersection of neuroscience, developmental and stem cell biology, medicine and genetics, and that further on it could benefit immensely from bioengineering, materials sciences, chemistry, and ethics. The Stanford Neurosciences Institute, by bringing labs from schools and programs across campus to collaborate in exciting and innovative ways, is catalyzing precisely these interdisciplinary efforts, allowing us to ask new, daring questions.

My dream is to bring the power of molecular biology to psychiatry. I am convinced that this will enable a new understanding of the human brain and accelerate the development of therapeutics.

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