Dr. Chen’s research focuses on stem cell biology and stem cell-based therapy for craniofacial and immune-related diseases, in which several novel physiological mechanisms have been identified. These findings have been translated into several pilot clinical studies to treat human patients with autoimmune diseases such as Systemic Lupus Erythematosus and Systemic Sclerosis; however, the reasons behind this stem cell-based therapy are not fully understood. As a secretome, mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) release large amounts of cytokines and small vesicles for immunoregulation and communication with surrounding cells. The major goal of Dr. Chen’s current studies is to investigate how small vesicles are controlled by a set of membrane traffic proteins for cell component reuse in stem cell transplantation.
Dr. Chen is also interested in bone biology and dissects the role of MSCs in bone/marrow homeostasis. He focuses on aging which leads a deterioration of the physiological systems and is a paradigmatic example of homeostasis collapse. Changes in histone modifications have been linked to stabilizing nuclear F-actin scaffold and actomyosin contractility, suggesting that nuclear size and shape may be regulated by specific histone signatures. The major goal of these studies is to investigate how MSCs participate in rejuvenation of senescent cells via histone modifications.
Recently, Dr. Chen is involved in oral cancer research to identify the physiological roles of cancer stem cells, stromal populations, and immune components in tumor microenvironment through single cell transcriptomic analysis. Upon successful determination of oral cancer biomarkers, the capacities of diagnosis, treatment, and tumor margin identification will be largely improved in head and neck cancer. Dr. Chen’s research is currently supported by the NIH/NIDCR.