headshot of Irina Conboy in lab

Research Expertise and Interest

stem cell niche engineering, tissue repair, stem cell aging and rejuvenation

Research Description

Irina Conboy is a professor in the Department of Bioengineering.  A key direction of research in her lab is to understand age-imposed and pathological changes in molecular compositions of systemic and local environments of adult stem cells and to calibrate these to health - youth. In the past few years this direction has been ramified into synthetic biology, CRISPR technologies, bio-orhtogonal proteomics and development of innovative digital bio-sensors that have been collaboratively applied to the fields of aging and diagnostics of genetic diseases. Resolving the conundrum of whether aging is a disease and what biomarks it, they posited that both, aging and disease, are biomarked not by the levels of gene expression or proteins, but their noise; and they identified the noise detectors (UC Berkeley IP) that reveal the natural polynomial curve of aging and allow quantifying (not predicting) the biological age. Success in their research will improve our understanding of the determinants of homeostatic health and will enable novel rational approaches to treat a number of degenerative, fibrotic, metabolic and inflammatory diseases, that often accompany human aging, as a class.

Links that cover and prioritize research in aging:


In the News

Study Finds Medical Procedure That Rejuvenates Old Human Blood

This Halloween season, vampires might want to pause their never-ending search for the blood of youth. A new study from UC Berkeley researchers disputes the idea that, for humans, young blood can rejuvenate the old — and suggests there is likely a better way to ward off the ravages of time.

Diluting blood plasma rejuvenates tissue, reverses aging in mice

In 2005, University of California, Berkeley, researchers made the surprising discovery that making conjoined twins out of young and old mice — such that they share blood and organs — can rejuvenate tissues and reverse the signs of aging in the old mice. The finding sparked a flurry of research into whether a youngster’s blood might contain special proteins or molecules that could serve as a “fountain of youth” for mice and humans alike.

New CRISPR-powered device detects genetic mutations in minutes

A team of engineers at the UC Berkeley and the Keck Graduate Institute (KGI) of The Claremont Colleges combined CRISPR with electronic transistors made from graphene to create a new hand-held device that can detect specific genetic mutations in a matter of minutes.

Drug Perks Up Old Muscles and Aging Brains

UC Berkeley researchers have discovered that a small-molecule drug simultaneously perks up old stem cells in the brains and muscles of mice, a finding that could lead to drug interventions for humans that would make aging tissues throughout the body act young again.

Bioengineers reprogram muscles to combat degeneration

UC Berkeley researchers have turned back the clock on mature muscle tissue, coaxing it back to an earlier stem cell stage to form new muscle. Moreover, they showed in mice that the newly reprogrammed muscle stem cells could be used to help repair damaged tissue. The achievement is described in the Sept. 23 issue of the journal Chemistry & Biology.

Featured in the Media

Please note: The views and opinions expressed in these articles are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or positions of UC Berkeley.
August 9, 2022
Chris Stokel-Walker
Transfusing young mice with blood from older rodents quickly triggers ageing, suggesting that cellular ageing isn't just a case of wear and tear. There is a longstanding hypothesis that surgically connecting an old mouse with a young rodent causes a transfer of blood that de-ages the older animal. While this benefits the older mouse, the effects on the young donor rodent were less clear. Irina Conboy at the University of California, Berkeley , and her colleagues transfused blood between young and old mice. Those aged 3 months got blood from animals that were approaching 2 years old. Two weeks later, the young mice had an increased number of senescent cells ? cells in the liver, kidneys and muscles that are damaged and stop dividing, but don't die. Strength tests also revealed the young mice became weaker after receiving the older rodents' blood. "Cell senescence is only part of the process of ageing," says Conboy. "That opens new horizons and helps explain why senolytics (drugs that clear senescent cells in the body) so far in clinical trials were less successful than people hoped."
June 18, 2020
Shane McGlaun
By diluting the blood plasma of old mice, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley announced they were able to stimulate age-reversing effects in mouse brains, livers and muscles. Removing age-elevated and potentially harmful factors in old blood is shifting the main model of rejuvenation away from young blood. For more on this, see our press release at Berkeley News.
March 26, 2019
Dan Robitzski
A new, portable CRISPR device promises to make it far easier and quicker to accurately diagnose genetic diseases than existing methods can. The device, made from graphene and nicknamed CRISPR-Chip, was first conceived in the Berkeley lab of bioengineering professor Irina Conboy, one of the co-researchers, and it can diagnose Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy from a purified DNA sample within 15 minutes, a process that usually takes several weeks. The lead scientist is Keck Graduate Institute bioengineer and former Berkeley postdoctoral researcher Kiana Aran. Speaking of next steps, Aran says: "We're talking with companies who would be great at pushing our lab tool into diagnostics, with a goal of setting up partnerships to make that happen. So, commercialization of the quality control and validation tool this year, and a clinical tool to come later." For more on this, see our press release at Berkeley News. Stories on this topic have appeared in more than 100 sources around the world, including Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News, Silicon Republic, MedIndia, Medical Device Network (Great Britain), and Wissenschaft (Germany).
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