Dr. Gay Crooks headshot

Gay M. Crooks, M.B.B.S. 

Co-Director, UCLA Broad Stem Cell Research Center; Professor and Rebecca Smith Endowed Chair, Pathology and Laboratory Medicine; Professor, Pediatrics

Bio

Gay Crooks, M.B.B.S, has contributed to a deeper understanding of blood stem cells, which are found in the bone marrow and continually create all types of blood cells throughout life. Her research defined how these cells can be isolated and manipulated to improve the results of bone marrow transplants, a treatment for a variety of blood diseases, including leukemias.

Crooks’ stem cell focus was born from her clinical work as a bone marrow transplant physician, caring for children with leukemia and genetic diseases of the blood and immune system. Through this experience, she developed a fascination with blood stem cells and has since dedicated much of her research to understanding how these cells create immune cells like T cells. Her ultimate goal is to develop methods to produce T cells that help patients’ immune systems fight disease more effectively.

While pursuing this goal, Crooks became interested in the thymus, a gland that sits just behind the breastbone in front of the heart and produces T cells. T cells serve as the soldiers of the immune system, finding and attacking infection and disease-causing intruders. Crooks’ study of the thymus and its ability to instruct blood stem cells to become T cells led her to develop an innovative “thymus in a dish” model that uses artificial thymic organoids to replicate and improve the production of disease-fighting T cells.

In preclinical studies, Crooks found that adding a specialized gene to her artificial thymic organoids enabled the production of large numbers of cancer-targeting T cells from blood stem cells. This model represents a key step towards producing a readily available supply of T cells that could potentially help treat many different kinds of cancer. Moving forward, Crooks hopes to expand on this work by developing an artificial thymic organoid that could produce T cells from pluripotent stem cells.

Crooks completed medical school at the University of Western Australia, became a fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians at the Princess Margaret Hospital for Children and completed a fellowship in pediatric hematology-oncology at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.

Publications

Honors & Affiliations

Honors

  • Morris and Mary Press Physician Humanism Award, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, 2007
  • Stohlman Scholar Award, Leukemia Lymphoma Society, 2004
  • Basil O'Connor Research Fellowship, March of Dimes, 1994

Affiliations

  •  American Society of Bone Marrow Transplantation
  • American Society of Hematology
  • American Society of Gene Therapy
  • Director, Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center Cancer and Stem Cell Biology Program
  • International Society of Experimental Hematology
  • American Association for the Advancement of Science
  • Society for Pediatric Research
  • International Society for Stem Cell Research. 

Funding

Crooks’ research is funded by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, National Institutes of Health and the UCLA Broad Stem Cell Research Center, including support from the Sherry, Dave and Sheila Gold Foundation.