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Developmental and stem cell biology

Stem cells and germ cells, early development, developmental mechanisms, neural development


Recent work in developmental and stem cell biology has had an important impact on both basic and biomedical science. This includes work on the early embryo and on neural systems, in addition to technological advances in the culture of stem cells. A University strategic initiative links researchers across our School and those in Clinical Medicine and Physical Sciences as well as nearby partner institutes at Hinxton. We outline here some of the progress in this theme, which has strong links with other research, including cancer and neuroscience.

Advances in understanding, quantifying and visualising cytoplasmic events and signalling processes contributing to changes in cell identity, shape and movement during development have been made. These have revealed the importance of local translation, roles for newly identified molecules and novel roles for those already known. These advances have been facilitated by the development of new visualisation tools and, in particular, exciting advances in computational modelling. These have allowed us to forge new links with researchers in the School of Physical Sciences.

Important novel concepts in stem cell biology with wider implications for development, including determination of a simple ground state within the stem cell, have been identified. It has also been possible to quantify the inter-relationships between cell states at the earliest stages of embryogenesis. New principles of germline inheritance have been identified, including the epigenetic mechanisms underlying the erasure and re-establishment of the pluripotent state.  A novel factor regulating the transcriptional programme in oocytes has been found and novel mechanisms for regulating cell polarity in germ cells have been uncovered. The insulin-mediated activation of quiescent neural stem cells has been identified and in vitro differentiation of a functional cortical neuronal circuitry has been undertaken.  The ability to rejuvenate remyelination in the CNS (central nervous system) is resulting in improved prospects for regenerative therapies in multiple sclerosis.