close up of washington university school of medicine building

For over 100 years, the Department of Developmental Biology has been a leader in developmental biology, stem cell biology, physiology, aging and more. Our faculty and trainees focus on the profoundly complex challenge of understanding organogenesis, encompassing the earliest developmental processes in the embryo, organism and cellular physiology, as well as tissue homeostasis and repair.

Message from the head

There are a number of unanswered questions about the fundamental mechanisms of development. We are using a variety of model organisms and cell-based systems to begin to answer many of these key questions and apply this knowledge to the mechanisms that lead to human birth defects and disease, with the hopes of discovering and improving future therapies.

A benefit to human health

The ultimate goal is to understand development and physiology in enough detail to recreate organogenesis in the lab and to generate functioning replacement tissues. This long term goal has immense potential benefit for human health. Understanding and integrating the fields of developmental biology, stem cell biology, physiology and aging will help provide approaches to preventing and treating a variety of genetic, developmental, metabolic and neurological diseases, such as diabetes, Alzheimer’s and cancer.

An integrated approach

The discipline of developmental biology is far reaching and integrates many fields, approaches and technologies, including faculty from across Washington University. Our research mission is to understand how evolutionarily conserved sets of signaling pathways generate cell, tissue and organ diversity, with the long term goal of uncovering the basic mechanisms underlying animal development, physiology, tissue maintenance and aging. In addition to understanding fundamental mechanisms, our department is highly committed to translating new findings from the bench to the bedside and to promoting collaborations throughout and beyond Washington University.

Department goals

In the long term, we anticipate our research efforts will help make the shift from stopgap medicine (organ donation or xenografts) to lab-grown, genetically and physiologically compatible replacements. Key research initiatives and technologies will include developing organ culture systems, quantitative systems biology approaches to understanding the function of transcriptional, protein and metabolic networks in embryonic and adult cells and somatic gene transfer. Recruitment is another goal of the department. Ongoing and future faculty searches will focus on new and emerging areas of developmental biology, including epigenetic regulation of cell fate decisions and quantitative/systems biology approaches. An equally important goal for the department is to educate and train graduate and medical students, postdoctoral fellows and clinical faculty, and to serve as a university focal point for developmental biology-related activities. If you are interested in supporting our department, please visit our Giving page.