Professor Glenn Monastersky runs a newly opened stem cell research center: the Rensselaer Center for Stem Cell Research. The center was funded by New York State and has been open since June 22, 2012.
Lab director Bridgette Arduini runs the day-to-day activities of the lab and has significant experience from Rockefeller University. Monastersky, a professor of practice in the biomedical engineering department at RPI, runs the core facilities in the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies at RPI. The current focus of the lab’s activity is assembling collaborations from all over the state.
“The goal was to share it with whomever wanted to use it because there’s not enough money for everybody to have everything at each college, such as microscopes and a specialized clean laboratory,” said Monastersky. “So, it’s called a shared resource. That’s our goal: to share the resource.”
Several Rensslear professors use the lab to run their experiments. These experiments use stem cells and range from examining the spinal cord and the development of neurons to curing injuries to developing soft tissues like blood vessels.
“When cells change genetically, they change visibly, and you can see the changes between a stem cell, a primitive undifferentiated cell, when it’s going to become a motor neuron or a muscle cell,” said Monastersky.
The lab consists of two clean rooms with two high-throughput imaging systems. One is an ArrayScan; when living cells, which are trying to develop into therapeutic cell lines, are put into it, this instrument tells you when cells are performing activities like growing, moving, or becoming neurons. There are 18 algorithms in the machine which tell you about the changes in the cells.
The other imaging system is a VivaView. This instrument consists of an incubator where you grow stem cells and a sophisticated Olympus microscope. The microscope is on the floor of the incubator, and cells can be viewed, fed, and analyzed without being removed and exposed to the outside room.
“Stem cells grow inside embryos inside the body. So they’re not used to levels of oxygen,” said Monastersky. “If you shock them with normal levels of oxygen or changing temperatures, your experiment is going to be ruined.”
To prevent the stem cells from being shocked, the lab must be very clean. Within low oxygen glove boxes, the cells are treated very gently. The lab also has sterile coats and booties to prevent outside contamination.
“The goal is to use engineering and nanotechnology skills. RPI has platforms in biomedical engineering and nanotechnology. And we’re putting together those skills in stem cell research,” said Monastersky. “We’re a strong place for stem cell research because we’re combining our strength in engineering with biology. We’re hoping to become a center-head in the Albany area, and even New York state.”