Ben Simons PhD, Herchel Smith Professor at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge, Associate Group Leader at the Gurdon Institute.
Mechanisms of stem cell fate in development, homeostasis and disease
How do stem cells regulate fate behaviour to specify and maintain tissues? Stem cells are defined by their capacity to self-renew while giving rise to differentiating progeny. In development, the balance between proliferation and differentiation must be controlled to specify tissues of the correct size, patterning and composition. In the adult, stem cells must achieve a perfect balance between proliferation and differentiation to achieve homeostasis.
To address the mechanisms that regulate stem cell fate we combine genetic lineage tracing and in vivo live-imaging approaches with methods from statistical physics. Applied to epithelial tissues including epidermis, intestine and testis, our studies have shown that stem cells are not individually long-lived, but are constantly lost and replaced. Further, stem cells are not invariant, but may transit reversibly between states poised for renewal or primed for differentiation.
As well as questioning stem cell identity and the mechanisms that underpin cell heterogeneity and flexibility, these studies establish a quantitative platform to explore pathways leading to tumour initiation and progression.
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