Mechanisms of Ectodermal Development
Cell fate specification in human ectodermal development
Our current working knowledge of human embryonic development is limited to extrapolations of data generated in the mouse. Unfortunately, data from different species are frequently not congruent, even in the rare occasions where comparisons can be made. With recent advances in Human Embryonic Stem Cell (HESC) technology, a more serious effort to take advantage of hESC technology to model phenomena that would be impossible to study otherwise is now possible. We are using hESCs to study the process by which embryonic ectoderm bifurcates down two lineages of seemingly distinct cell types, namely neural and epidermal.
Generation of Pluripotent Cells from Human Somatic Tissue
A great deal of the excitement surrounding stem cell biology is predicated on the ability of these cells to be clinically relevant in regenerative medicine, but technical and ethical hurdles are impeding progress towards the use of HESCs in a therapeutic setting. The generation of patient-specific stem cells would remove most of these hurdles, and allow for autologous transplant of cells derived from a patient’s own tissue. Our most recent work and that of others demonstrated that these hurdles might be overcome through the use of reprogramming of adult somatic cells to generate cells that are seemingly indistinguishable from embryonic stem cells. We feel that the knowledge gained from our exploration of ectodermal development will be insightful for these neural and epidermal differentiation efforts from HESCs and human iPS.
Modeling Human Disease in a Dish
The immediate clinical utility for human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs) is in disease modeling. Taking patient cells and reprogramming them to a pluripotent state can allow for modeling of a disease state in vitro. We study neurological disorders in hopes of understanding not only the etiology of disease, but to potentially develop novel therapeutics in vitro.