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The Gurdon Institute


2019 SimonsBen Simons PhD FRS FMedSci, Senior Group Leader, Royal Society EP Abraham Professor, affiliated with the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics.

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Cambridge Centre for Physical Biology




Mechanisms of stem cell fate in tissue development, maintenance and disease

How do stem and progenitor cells regulate their fate behaviour to specify and maintain tissues? In development, tissue precursors must coordinate proliferation and differentiation with collective cell movements to specify organs of the correct size, pattern and composition. In the adult, stem cells must regulate a precise balance between proliferation and differentiation to maintain tissue homeostasis.

To address the mechanisms that regulate stem and progenitor cell fate, we combine cell lineage-tracing approaches and single-cell gene expression profiling with concepts and methods from statistical physics and mathematics. Applied to epithelial tissues, our studies have shown how common principles of self-organisation and emergence provide predictive insights into the cellular mechanisms that regulate tissue development and maintenance.

As well as questioning the basis of stem cell identity and the mechanisms that underpin cell fate stochasticity and state flexibility, these studies establish a quantitative platform to investigate pathways leading to tumour initiation and progression.

Selected publications:

• Kitadate Y et al. (2019) Competition for mitogens regulates spermatogenic stem cell homeostasis in an open niche. Cell Stem Cell 14, 1-14. doi: 10.1016/j.stem.2018.11.013

• Sznurkowska MK et al. (2018) Defining lineage potential and fate behavior of precursors during pancreas development. Dev Cell 46, 360-375. doi:10.1016/j.devcel.2018.06.028

• Hannezo, E et al. (2017) A unifying theory of branching morphogenesis. Cell 171, 242-255. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2017.08.026

• Lan X et al. (2017) Cell fate mapping of human glioblastoma reveals an invariant stem cell hierarchy pre- and post-treatment. Nature 549, 227-232. doi:10.1038/nature23666

• Scheele CLGJ et al. (2017) Identity and dynamics of mammary stem cells during branching morphogenesis. Nature 542, 313-317. doi:10.1038/nature21046

• Sánchez-Danés A et al. (2016) Defining the clonal dynamics leading to tumor initiation. Nature 536, 298-303. doi:10.1038/nature19069

Simons Group end 2019


Ignacio Bordeu • Lemonia Chatzeli • Catherine Dabrowska • Adrien Hallou • Seungmin Han • Omer Karin • Daniel Kunz • Jamie McGinn • Margarida Rodrigues • Yanbo Yin • Min Kyu Yum

Video: Meet Ben Simons

Ben describes how he applies mathematical models from physics to answer questions about stem cell behaviour.

Watch on YouTube

Cambridge Centre for Physical Biology

Ben Simons is a key member of the new Cambridge Centre for Physical Biology.

This initiative aims to support and facilitate multidisciplinary collaborations across the University of Cambridge. We will help coordinate and disseminate events and activities, support existing collaborations and promote new interactions.

The Centre is currently setting up a number of schemes aiming to promote interdisciplinary connections, including pump-priming grants, summer studentships and a visiting scholar scheme.