Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 1 session / week, 2 hours / session


7.03 Genetics
7.05 General Biochemistry
7.06 Cell Biology
7.08 Biological Chemistry II

Course Description

Have you ever considered going to a pharmacy to order some new cardiomyocytes (heart muscle cells) for your ailing heart? It might sound crazy, but recent developments in stem cell science have made this concept not so futuristic. In this course, we will explore the underlying biology behind the idea of using stem cells to treat disease, specifically analyzing the mechanisms that enable a single genome to encode multiple cell states ranging from neurons to fibroblasts to T cells. We will study new developments in the area of cellular reprogramming and transdifferentiation and highlight how we have gained the power to control cell states in a Petri dish. Specifically, this course will not only introduce important biological concepts like pluripotency and epigenetics but also focus on key technologies that are used to study them, such as genome- wide sequencing and transcription-mediated reprogramming. We will also consider the potential consequences and limitations of stem cell therapy, particularly the connection between stem cells and cancer. Overall, we hope to provide a comprehensive overview of this exciting new field of research and its clinical relevance.


At the end of this class, students should be able to:

  1. Read and analyze the primary research literature, critically assess scientific experiments and evaluate the impact of a scientific discovery.
  2. Understand key implications of stem cell research.
  3. Be comfortable and have fun discussing recent advances in stem cell biology.


Two original papers from the research literature will be discussed each week. Students are expected to read both papers in advance and prepare two questions about each assigned article before class. The questions may be about the data, experimental methods, or authors' interpretation of the results.

The emphasis will be on critical reading of key papers in the stem cell field, both at the data and conceptual levels. At the end of each session, the instructors will present an introduction to the topic of the following week's assigned reading.


This course is graded pass/fail. The grading will be based on regular participation in the weekly meetings as well as on the two assignments.


1 Orientation  
2 History of stem cell biology and axis of research  
3 What makes a stem cell a stem cell? Part 1 – Transcription factors  
4 What makes a stem cell a stem cell? Part 2 – Chromatin structure  
5 New technologies  
6 Field trip and 1st assignment Field trip— Stem Cells Seminar – MIT Biology Colloquium
7 Cloning of mammalian cells Written midterm assignment is due
8 Reprogramming and trans-differentiation - Transcription factors, 2.0.  
9 Are cancer-initiating cells stem cells?  
10 Using lessons from stem cells to treat diabetes  
11 Stem cell therapies  
12 The future of regenerative medicine  
13 Final assignment Final assignment: in-class debate