William Lowry, PhD

William Lowry, Ph.D. 

Professor, Molecular, Cell and Developmental Biology

Bio

William Lowry, Ph.D., uses human pluripotent stem cells to study the process by which the ectoderm, the outermost layer of cells in the early embryo, splits into two distinct lineages of cell types: the cells that comprise the nervous system and the cells that make up the outer surface of the body including skin, hair and nails. Through examining how the ectoderm gives rise to these two stem cell types, Lowry hopes to gain an understanding of how the development process can go awry, leading to intellectual disability syndromes such as autism in the case of neural cells, or a predisposition to cancers like carcinoma in the case of skin cells.

Lowry’s interest in stem cell research was born from a desire to understand how a small number of cells in the developing embryo can create all of the cells in the body. Early in his career, Lowry focused his research on the stem cells that reside in the skin because they are easily accessible and share many characteristics with the stem cells of the nervous system. Although these two groups of cells perform vastly different functions, their physiology is quite similar because they both arise from the ectoderm during embryonic development.

Lowry models neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s, autism and schizophrenia by taking skin cells from patients with these disorders and reprogramming the cells to a pluripotent state, then directing them to become neural stem cells. The neural stem cells created in this way carry genetic defects that cause neurological disease; Lowry uses these defective neural stem cells to examine how they self-renew and produce dysfunctional neural cells. Through this work, he hopes to identify the causes of neurological disorders in order to develop novel treatment strategies.

Much of Lowry’s research on skin stem cells focuses on how they are prompted to make new hair or heal wounds, and how abnormal skin stem cell activity can lead to tumor development. In examining this process, he studies external factors including how cells interact with one another and their environment, and internal factors such as how they metabolize, or break down, available nutrients. This research has already resulted in the discovery of two drugs that promoted hair growth in animal models by altering the metabolism processes of hair follicle stem cells. Lowry is now working to manipulate metabolic processes of hair follicle stem cells to stop the initiation and progression of tumors, such as squamous cell carcinoma.

Lowry earned a doctorate in neuroscience from Weill Medical College of Cornell University.

Publications

Honors & Affiliations

Honors

  • Allen Distinguished Investigator Award, The Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group, 2015
  • Maria Rowena Ross Term Chair in Cell Biology and Biochemistry, UCLA, 2009-2014
  • Basil O'Connor Starter Scholar Research Award, March of Dimes, 2009

Affiliations

  • International Society for Stem Cell Research
  • Faculty of 1000
  • Editorial board, Current Opinion in Genetics & Development