Current Research and Scholarly Interests
Dr. Helms is a Professor in the Department of Surgery at Stanford University.
My research program in the field of regeneration medicine is inspired by collaborations with experts in bioengineering, materials science, physics, and with colleagues in the life sciences. We focus on developing strategies to improve tissue healing through the re-activation of autologous stem cells. Adult stem cells are critical regenerative precursors that, when activated, control tissue regeneration. We are developing clinically relevant methods to drive the self-renewal and proliferation of adult stem cells in the context of wound repair.
We are especially interested in age-related changes in tissue healing; as we get older our ability to heal injuries slows down and many of these changes can be traced back to sluggish stem cells. We believe that the ability to re-activate a patient’s own stem cells presents a unique opportunity for therapeutic intervention in a broad range of conditions affecting bone, cartilage, skin, and hair.
I have a successful track record for assembling and managing multi-investigator projects and I have obtained funding from both federal and non-federal sources including the NIH and the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM). Work on our laboratory has led to a number of patent filings, which emphasizes the translational nature of our work.
Conducting clinically relevant research is my main objective, but this goes hand-in-hand with another goal: I believe that education is one of the most important tools to improving human health. I aim to use every avenue available to transform the way people think about science and medicine, and emphasize its contribution to their daily lives. I’ve participated in TV programming (BBC, Discovery Channel, Animal Planet), taught a variety of undergraduate courses, continuing studies courses, and now a MOOC, all in an attempt in show people how science positively impacts our lives. In the end, I believe it falls to scientists to provide tangible examples- to students of all ages- of the value of research. By actively engaging the community (from middle school students to retirement community residents) in the benefits of scientific exploration, I believe we create a shared vision of how basic science research profits all of us.
I am also an enthusiastic mentor for programs that introduce young men and women from under-represented ethnicities to the Sciences. Through teamwork, lectures, and most importantly, hands-on experiences with real-world problems, students get a taste of what a career in biomedical research entails. Through these means I believe we can have a substantial impact on the makeup of future scientists and clinicians, and make real contributions towards the advancement of health care to underserved segments of our population.
Finally, I am deeply invested in advocating on behalf of individuals who have conditions and injuries affecting their appearance. Facial differences, especially in our young patients, can deeply affect an individuals’ self-perception and their acceptance in our beauty-conscious society. As an ally to those with facial differences, I actively support the goals of charitable organizations such as Changing Faces (UK), to educate the public about people with facial disabilities. I hold this responsibility seriously, and approach it with a deep respect for the lives and choices of people with disabilities.