Inviting a new generation of scientists into the study of human development, disease, and aging, Harvard University will offer a new undergraduate concentration in Human Developmental and Regenerative Biology (HDRB) starting this fall.

The new concentration, or “major” — among the first of its kind at any university nationwide — was approved Tuesday (March 10) by a vote of Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) at its regularly scheduled faculty meeting. It will be available to students starting with current freshmen, the Class of 2012.

“The timing of this vote is very auspicious, coming on the heels of President Obama’s executive order lifting restrictions on stem cell research,” says Douglas Melton, Thomas Dudley Cabot Professor of the Natural Sciences and co-chair of Harvard’s Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology (SCRB). “It’s our hope that this program will encourage some of our nation’s aspiring scientists to consider careers in human developmental and regenerative biology, fields which offer tremendous promise to better understand human development and regeneration and which hold the promise of finding new ways to combat disease.”

HDRB will educate students on how human beings develop from fertilized eggs, are maintained and repaired throughout adulthood, and age until the end of life. Students will receive a broad grounding in the modern life sciences by studying important biological principles and how these apply within the developing and regenerating body.

With heavy emphasis on hands-on research opportunities in all four undergraduate years, HDRB will engage students with an interest in research and take advantage of Harvard’s special strengths as a teaching college and research university.

Upon its formal launch this fall, HDRB will represent the undergraduate curriculum of Harvard’s Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology, a joint effort of FAS and Harvard Medical School (HMS) co-chaired by Melton and David Scadden, Gerald and Darlene Jordan Professor of Medicine at HMS and Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital.

“The launch of the Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology’s undergraduate concentration in Human Developmental and Regenerative Biology marks a great achievement for this joint FAS-HMS department created just two years ago,” says Jeremy Bloxham, FAS dean of science. “The concentration represents a new direction in undergraduate education, one linking fundamental developmental biology to exciting new areas of medical research.”

Established in 2007, SCRB is already offering courses this academic year that will count toward the HDRB concentration, including instruction in stem cell biology, human disease, experimental and human genetics, aging, and cloning, regeneration, and reprogramming. Additional HDRB courses, to be offered starting next year, will focus on neurodegenerative disease, human development, and experimental embryology, among other topics.

Melton and Kevin Eggan, assistant professor of stem cell and regenerative biology, will serve as co-head tutors of the new concentration.

Harvard currently offers eight concentrations in the life sciences: Chemical and Physical Biology, Chemistry, Human Evolutionary Biology, Molecular and Cellular Biology, Neurobiology, and Organismic and Evolutionary Biology; a Biological Anthropology track in the Department of Anthropology; and a Social and Cognitive Neuroscience track in the Department of Psychology.

The FAS Faculty Council will review the new concentration and present a report to the full faculty within five years.

Culture skews human evolution