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Dr. Alysson R. Muotri

Director, Stem Cell Program. Professor of Pediatrics and Cellular & Molecular Medicine, UC San Diego

Dr. Alysson R. Muotri, a professor in the Departments of Pediatrics and Cellular & Molecular Medicine at the University of California, San Diego, is focusing his research on solving one of life's greatest mysteries: What is it that makes us uniquely human?

Research tells us that one of the most influential characteristics of modern humans is our sophisticated brains, and all of the abilities that its complexity grants us. Our unique social brains are one of the key distinguishing factors between humans and other primates. We are even very different from our closest relatives, the Neanderthals, whose brains were possibly limited in their ability to create technology, art, imagination and overall culture. Dr. Muotri is studying the brain from an evolutionary and developmental perspective, differentiating stem cells to recreate "brain organoids" in the controlled setting of a lab.

Gaining a clearer understanding of human brain evolution is crucial for interpreting human genetic variants which lead to disease. Some of the evolutionary properties that make us uniquely human and allow us to live the advanced lifestyle we enjoy are also a root cause for a number of disorders. Our brain grants us far greater processing power than any other species, but a complex brain came with a cost: it increases the opportunity for neurological diseases. Thus, understanding the evolutionary path and the tradeoffs of the modern human brain will likely illuminate the origins of human disease.

About Dr. Muotri’s major milestones:

  • Demonstrated for the first time that human stem cell-derived neurons can be fully functional in a chimeric mouse brain. (2005)
  • Revealed that the brain is a genetic mosaic caused by “jumping genes”. This finding has compelled science textbooks to rewrite the dogma that all cells in the body share the same genome. (2005)
  • Developed the Tooth Fairy collection program using social media, a world-wide network for patient recruitment and non-invasive biopsy acquisition, connecting thousands of families with intellectual and neurodevelopmental disabilities with researches. (2008)
  • Created the first human model for neurodevelopmental disorders using stem cells. These innovative methods are now used by thousands of other investigators worldwide. (2010)
  • Showed for the first time that alterations in human neurons derived from individuals with a severe neurological condition can be reversible. (2010)
  • Revealed the causal link between the Brazilian Zika virus and birth defects. Only two years later, found a treatment and how to block the viral replication and protect the fetus. (2016)
  • Founder of several companies, including Tismoo – the first start up dedicated to personalize treatment for kids with autism using brain organoids. (2016)
  • Generated the first functional human brain organoid with oscillatory waves. (2019)
  • Sent thousands of human brain organoids to the International Space Station, aiming to improve human interplanetary colonization and human health on Earth. (2020)
  • Create the first “archealized” human brain organoid, a platform to reveal relevant genetic variants between modern humans and our extinct relatives, such as the Neanderthals. (2021)
  • He has received several awards, including the prestigious NIH Director’s New Innovator Award, NARSAD, Rock Star of Innovation, Stigma Buster, EUREKA, among others.

More Information

Muotri Laboratory 
Muotri YouTube Channel
UCSD Profiles
Stem Cell TV