Adult Stem Cell Researcher- Dr. Theresa Deisher

Scientist keeps suffering patients in mind while pursuing Adult Stem Cell discoveries – People in need are out of sight—but not out of mind

 (September 2014) The world of scientific research is filled with microscopes, Petri dishes and tedious data collection.  But for adult stem cell researcher Theresa Deisher, Ph.D., the suffering endured by patients she’ll probably never meet is always at the top of her mind.

“I want to help those people and stop their suffering,” explains Deisher.  “I chose science, in order to do that. Even though I spend my time in the lab, it’s the patients that really motivate me and drive me in what I’m trying to accomplish.” 

No one can deny the kind of relentless drive Dr. Deisher—affectionately known as “Tracy” to her colleagues–brings to the research lab every day.  World renowned in the field of adult stem cell therapies and regenerative medicine, Dr. Deisher has 23 patents in her name. Several more of her inventions are currently in clinical trials.

Before founding Seattle’s AVM Biotechnology in 2008, Dr. Deisher held high level assignments at some of the biotech industry’s most prestigious companies including Cellcyte Genetics, Amgen, Immunex, ZymoGenetics and Repligen.  She was the first person to discover and identify stem cells from the human heart, including what are now called “very small embryonic-like stem cells” (VSELS). 

That ground breaking discovery, admits Dr. Deisher, was almost completely unexpected.  “We were not looking to discover adult (heart) stem cells at all,” she recalls. “But what makes a good scientist is to be able to see what is actually there in your results and in your experiment, even if it’s not what you set out and intended to do.”

Her colleagues in the field of regenerative medicine agree that thinking “outside the box” and noticing minute, but important details that others miss helps set Dr. Deisher apart from other research scientists.     

“That is a good example of taking a path to discovery that others might not believe in, that others might not think is promising, and doing all the work that it takes to unearth the findings and make a persuasive case,” says Dr. Michael Schneider, Chairperson of Regenerative Cardiology at the prestigious Imperial College, London.  “Then, an equally hard bit of work is how to turn that discovery into workable remedies.”

Working hard has been part of what make Theresa Deisher tick since an early age. One might even argue it’s part of her genetic make-up. The daughter of a medical technologist, Theresa always loved science and was 13 when she learned to draw blood from patients and spent countless hours in the lab with her mother, performing chores like cleaning glassware and fixing pipettes.

“My mother trained me, so I was very good because she’s a very good trainer,” recalls Dr. Deisher with a smile.  “I got to do the neonatal intensive care, as well as work in the adult intensive care units.  Besides drawing the blood, I would many times go and spend my breaks with the people in the ICUs who didn’t have anyone to visit them.  And that experience is actually why I decided to go into science and not into medicine.  I think I got too involved with the patients and it was very hard when people you’d visit would die.”

Following her Mom’s tutelage Theresa went on to build an impressive academic career that included graduation with honors and distinction from Stanford, along with her Ph.D. in Molecular and Cellular Physiology. 

Now as Founder and CEO of AVM Biotechnology, Dr. Deisher is leveraging her academic and professional credentials to follow her dream of helping people who suffer from debilitating diseases and conditions like heart failure and rheumatoid arthritis. 

“Theresa Deisher is a remarkable scientist, a remarkable woman and a remarkable business person,” says Bruce Chapman, Founder of Seattle’s Discovery Institute.  As one who has followed Dr. Deisher’s career for many years, he’s effusive in his praise, particularly in how as a scientist, she has the ability to look beyond the lab and see the bigger picture. 

“She sees all aspects of the issues and she’s got the medical training and background to allow her to control the process in a positive way that will yield medical breakthroughs,” explains Chapman. “So when we find people who are trying to apply good science and common sense to public needs, with public policy consequences, of course, we’re very enthusiastic.” 

Adult stem cells—specifically research designed to help adult stem cells work better—is a mission she gets excited about every day.

“Every person has stem cells in their own body,” explains Dr. Deisher.  “And while there are exceptions, when we want to treat someone with a disease, we can take their own stem cells and use their own stem cells to induce regeneration and recovery in that patient.  That’s the value of adult stem cells.  They’re safe.  They work.  And they’re affordable.”