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The Villa-Diaz Lab is formed by a group of talented undergraduate and graduate students from the Departments of Biological Sciences and Bioengineering of Oakland University.  Our research focus in the basic understanding of stem cells and their interconnection with the microenvironment in which reside in our bodies.  We aim in translating the generated knowledge in regenerative biomedical applications.

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Primary Areas of Interest

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Determining the role of Integrin alpha6 in stem cells

Integrin alpha6 (ITGA6, also known as CD49f) is the only biomarker that is commonly expressed in all stem cell populations, from pluripotent stem cells to cancer stem cells.  Our group is expanding our seminal finding that ITGA6 is involved in the self-renewal of human embryonic stem cells to other stem cell populations.  We are investigating its role and cellular attributes in cardiac stem cells, mesenchymal stem cells and cancer stem cells.


Studying the effect of microgravity on stem cell's biology

Space exploration is increasing and there is a clear need for identifying the effects of microgravity and cosmic radiation on living organisms.  We are contributing by investigating the effect of simulated microgravity on stem cells, aiming in gaining knowledge that can serve as a guide to anticipate and solve problems related to development and tissue regeneration in spaceflight-based endeavors.

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Improving the in vitro culture of human pluripotent stem cells

Human pluripotent stem cells hold a great potential in regenerative medicine, drug and therapeutic development.  Thus, optimal culture conditions are required to fulfill this promise.  We are aiming in optimizing their in vitro derivation and expansion in xeno-free and chemically defined conditions to support basic and translation research involving these cells.

Study of human retinal development and function

Human pluripotent stem cells can recapitulate organ development in vitro through the formation of organoids. We are investigating the development and physiology of the human retina by creating retinal organoids from pluripotent stem cells.  Our goal is to identify the stem cell population that support the formation of the multiple neuronal cells forming the eye retina.

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