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John Harvard's Journal

Kevin Eggan

May-June 2006

Kevin Eggan
Photograph by Justin Ide / Harvard News Office

Last year Kevin Eggan was a Junior Fellow at Harvard. He met developmental biologist Douglas Melton, of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, and the two decided to launch a project to create new human embryonic stem-cell lines tailored to individuals with diabetes and Parkinson’s. Eggan became assistant professor of molecular and cellular biology last fall and set up and staffed a laboratory next to Melton’s. Now he is poised to take a donated human egg, remove its nucleus (and thus its DNA), and put into the egg cell the nucleus of an adult cell from a patient. In theory the egg will somehow reprogram the nucleus of the adult cell back to its earliest state, and the cell will divide and develop into an embryo with only the patient’s DNA, producing stem cells with the potential to generate any of the body’s tissues. The tiny embryo, of huge ethical import to some constituencies, will be destroyed. By studying the stem cells, Eggan hopes to learn how disease proceeds and to test ways of curing it. He made headlines last summer with an experiment that created human stem cells by fusing an adult skin cell with a stem cell from an existing line, rather than with an egg. But that technology, which avoids destroying an embryo, produces cells with twice too much DNA and “is not ready for prime time yet,” says Eggan. “It will remain speculative until we can understand how reprogramming works.” Raised in the flatlands of Normal, Illinois, he climbs for recreation and recently scaled Mount Kilimanjaro. He loves to do French cooking and to entertain, and he attempts exceedingly complicated recipes with fervor, “to see whether I can successfully climb each one of these little Mount Everests.”