It was announced this week that NYSCF — Robertson Stem Cell Investigators Sergiu Pasca, MD, and Feng Zhang, PhD, will be presented with the 2018 Vilcek Prize for Biomedical Science. Each year, The Vilcek Foundation awards prizes in biomedical science and the arts and humanities to immigrants who have made lasting contributions to American society.
Dr. Pasca has always harbored a passion for science. As a child growing up in Romania, he constructed his own lab in his parents’ basement, spending hours running experiments and studying how chemicals react. His passion later became his profession after he graduated from Iuliu Hatieganu University of Medicine and Pharmacy and embarked on a career in research.
Having previously studied the neuronal basis of autism while in medical school, Dr. Pasca soon became interested in how stem cells could model neuropsychiatric disorders and illuminate their underpinnings. This is now the goal of his lab at Stanford, where he is an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and Director of the Stanford Neurosciences Institute Stem Cell Core.
He is also an advocate for the use of organoids (miniature, lab-grown versions of organs) to study brain development and disease. His team recently used brain organoids to investigate the maturation of an important, but often overlooked, type of brain cell called astrocytes. The researchers found that their lab-grown cells matured at the same rate as those in human brains, indicating that brain organoids can be used to successfully model both typical and abnormal brain development. Dr. Pasca hopes that understanding this development will help inform the creation of effective therapeutics to treat neuropsychiatric disease.