Scheme: Wolfson Research Merit Awards
Organisation: University of Oxford
Dates: Jan 2015-Dec 2019
Summary: Cells in the human body differ from each other by virtue of the different subsets of their genes that are active. The selection of genes for activity is carried out during embryonic development and depends on signals received from surrounding cells. We have been identifying the signals received by the cells which go on to form the stem cells that provide blood for the life time of the organism. Stem cells are important cells in the adult because they are responsible for replenishing or repairing tissues. Thus, understanding how they are controlled is very important for human health. It is now becoming clear that cancer is a stem cell disease, in other words cancer is caused by rogue cells with stem cell characteristics, and so understanding this control is even more critical. We are studying these cells in fish and frogs because they develop externally which allows us to observe what is happening. However, the mechanisms employed are highly conserved with humans and therefore what we find out has direct relevance to human health. Zebrafish can regenerate their hearts when damaged, restoring full function. This capacity is not present in humans. We are studying the process in zebrafish with a view to finding out what could be done to enable humans to repair their hearts after damage.