Developmental and regenerative biology and medicine
This is an important theme spanning many departments and research institutes.
Developmental biologists study the mechanisms by which a single cell, the fertilised egg, develops into a complex multicellular organism with a diversity of cell types precisely organised in time and space. Research includes the analysis of processes such as the acquisition of cell polarity, morphogenesis, the cell cycle, asymmetric cell division, intercellular signalling, intracellular signal transduction, transcriptional regulation and epigenetics.
Of necessity, developmental biologists make use of a wide range of techniques, involving molecular biology, cell biology, imaging, biochemistry, structural biology, genomics, bioinformatics, evolutionary studies and physiology. They also take particular advantage of the fact that developmental mechanisms are highly conserved between species, and different groups work on organisms as diverse as Arabidopsis, Caenorhabditiselegans, Drosophila, Xenopus, zebrafish, chick, mouse and humans to study problems as wide-ranging as specification of the germline, the identification of cytoplasmic determinants and the transcriptional networks involved in construction of the brain. The great increase in genome sequence information has greatly expedited comparisons between these species and has encouraged researchers to ask whether conclusions derived from one organism also apply to another. This offers the opportunity for many collaborative interactions.
Stem cell science is a major and growing theme in Cambridge. The Wellcome Trust and Medical Research Council Cambridge Stem Cell Institute comprises 25 research groups. Basic and translational research are interlinked through two primary hubs, the Centre for Stem Cell Research and the Laboratory for Regenerative Medicine. Fundamental investigations in both embryonic and tissue stem cellscentre on molecular mechanisms governing self- renewal, commitment, differentiation, reprogramming and potency. These studies extend naturally into tissue homeostasis, dysregulation, aging, degeneration and repair. There is also increasing interest and expertise in using patient-specific induced pluripotent stem cells for human disease modelling, investigation of molecular pathogenesis, and compound screening. Pre-clinical and clinical studies include approaches both to stimulate regeneration by endogenous stem cells and to replace lost cells by transplantation. In addition studies in leukaemia have revitalised the concept that some forms of cancer may be maintained by malignant cells that have acquired properties of stem cells. Research continues to characterise such "cancer stem cells" and determining whether they can be targeted for therapeutic benefit.The Institute hosts a dedicated 4 year PhD programme in stem cell biology.
Stem cell science interfaces with research in cancer, cardiovascular science, developmental biology, immunology, neuroscience, functional genomics, and molecular and structural biology. Specialist technology platforms and resourcesfor stem cell research include primary cell culture, advanced flow cytometry, in vitro and in vivo cell tracking, transplantation, and transgenesis. Bioinformatics and computational modelling are increasingly incorporated and interactions are expanding with the physical sciences. The Stem Cell Institute also benefits from multiple collaborations with groups at EBI, CRI and the Sanger Institute. The emerging interest in regenerative medicine from the biotechnology and biopharmaceutical industry is a new opportunity.