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The Gurdon Institute


2019 RawlinsEmma Rawlins PhD, Senior Group Leader, MRC Senior Non-Clinical Fellow, Member of the Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience.

Europe PMC | Pubmed

Rawlins lab website

Part of the Human Developmental Biology Initiative




Stem and progenitor cells in the mammalian lung

How do stem cells build and maintain the lung? The complicated three-dimensional structure of our lungs is essential for respiration and host defence. Building this structure relies on the correct sequence of division and differentiation events by lung progenitor cells, which also maintain the slowly turning-over airway epithelium in the adult. How is the production of different cell types controlled in embryonic development and adult maintenance? We apply mouse genetics, live imaging, single-cell molecular analysis and mathematical modelling to understand lung stem cells, with a longer-term aim of directing endogenous lung cells to repair, or regenerate, diseased tissue.

In the adult lung we focus on the cellular mechanisms that maintain stem cell quiescence at steady-state, but allow a rapid repair response when needed. In the embryonic lung we study a population of multipotent progenitors that undergo steroid-induced changes in competence during development.

In the embryo, we have recently switched our focus to normal human lung development, primarily using an organoid system that we developed. We combine the analysis of fresh human embryonic tissue with gene-targeting in the organoids, to determine the molecular and cellular mechanisms of normal human lung development. This will provide insights into conditions related to premature birth and into the possibility of therapeutic lung regeneration.

Selected publications:

• Nikolić MZ, Sun D and Rawlins EL (2018) Human lung development: recent progress and new challenges. Development 145, dev163485. doi:10.1242/dev.163485 (Review article)

• Nikolić MZ, Caritg O, Jeng Q, Johnson J, Sun D, Howell KJ, Brady JL, Laresgoiti U, Allen G, Butler R, Zilbauer M, Giangreco A, Rawlins EL (2017) Human embryonic lung epithelial tips are multipotent progenitors that can be expanded in vitro as long-term self-renewing organoids. Elife Jun 30;6. pii: e26575. DOI: 10.7554/eLife.26575. PMC5555721.

• Balasooriya GI, Goschorska M, Piddini E, Rawlins EL (2017) FGFR2 is required for airway basal cell self-renewal and terminal differentiation. Development 144, 1600-1606. PMC5450841.

• Laresgoiti U, Nikolić MZ, Rao C, Brady JL,  Richardson RV, Batchen EJ, Chapman KE and Rawlins EL (2016) Lung epithelial tip progenitors integrate Glucocorticoid and STAT3-mediated signals to control progeny fate. Development 143(20): 3686-3699. PMC5087639.

• Balasooriya GI, Johnson J, Basson MA, Rawlins EL (2016) An FGFR1-SPRY2 Signaling Axis Limits Basal Cell Proliferation in the Steady-State Airway Epithelium. Developmental Cell 37(1):85-97. PMC4825408.

• Watson JK, Rulands S, Wilkinson AC, Wuidart A, Ousset M, Van Keymeulen A, Göttgens B, Blanpain C, Simons BD, Rawlins EL (2015) Clonal Dynamics Reveal Two Distinct Populations of Basal Cells in Slow Turnover Airway Epithelium. Cell Reports 12:1-12. PMC4518462.

Rawlins group (Nov18 to Feb19)


Ana Lucia Cabriales Torrijos • Abigail Cox • Ziqi Dong • Peng He • Tessa Hughes • Quitz Jeng • Florence Leroy • Kyungtae Lim • Shuyu Liu • Vishal Menon • John Russell • Ziming Shao • Vanesa Sokleva • Dawei Sun

Video: Meet Emma Rawlins

Emma describes her research into development and regeneration in the lung, including an animation and inside views of her lab. 

Watch on YouTube >

Lung stem cells in health, repair and disease

A factsheet on the EuroStemCell website, by Adam Giangreco (UCL) and Emma Rawlins; updated 2018.

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