Harnessing the Bioelectric Potential of Cells for Regeneration

Contemporary Science Issues and Innovations February 21, 2012 Belmont Media Center, Belmont, MA

Michael Levin, Ph.D., Vannevar Bush Professor in the Department of Biology and Director of Tufts Center for Regenerative and Developmental Biology

Minute voltage variations in cells orchestrate crucial functions such as anatomical development in the embryo, defense mechanisms against cancer, the repair and in some organisms regeneration of damaged organs and limbs. Until recently, few researchers noted the potential significance of voltage gradients in cells. But that situation has changed dramatically. In a set of remarkable experiments, Professor Michael Levin and his colleagues at the Levin Lab, Tufts University have demonstrated that manipulation of voltage gradients in embryonic cells can alter physical structure: for example, extra eyes, eyes in odd places, or no eyes at all. The discovery of the vital role of ion currents in cells in storing the information necessary to pattern a complex 3-dimensional organism suggests that it may well be possible to exploit this factor to regenerate organs, limbs, and tissues in humans. If so, Dr. Levin’s efforts to gain molecular-level control over this cellular communication has introduced a great and unexpected leap in medical history.

Professor Michael Levin is well known for thinking "outside the box" and for his leading edge research in left-right asymmetry and in how the bioelectrical language of cells can be used to control cell behavior. His more recent research focuses on how living systems learn and store information in cells and tissue outside the brain. In 2004, the journal Nature celebrated his work on left-right asymmetry as a “milestone in developmental biology in the last century.” Dr. Levin’s work has numerous potential applications, including the very early detection of cancer cells and the repair of birth defects. Meet Michael Levin, PhD

Awards and Honors

2011 Vannevar Bush Endowed Chair appointment

2007 Established Investigator Award from American Heart Association

2004 Nature: recognition of Michael Levin’s work on embryonic left-right asymmetry as “a milestone in developmental biology in last century. ”

Some background

Tufts Magazine article on Michael Levin

The Levin Lab’s FAQs

Science News, 12/31/11 Story One: Building the Body Electric

Left-Right Asymmetry in Embryonic Development (M. Levin, Mechanisms of Development 122, 2005)

Regenerative Medicine 6(6), 2011: Future Medicine: The wisdom of the body: Future techniques and approaches to morphogenic fields in regenerative medicine, developmental biology and cancer

Errors in Geometry: Regeneration in a broader perspective (Seminars in Cell and Developmental Biology 20 (2009))

Regeneration: Recent advances, major puzzles, and biomedical opportunities(Seminars in Cell and Developmental Biology 20 (2009)