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At the frontier of medicine: Using big data to understand cellular identity

19 November 2019
Meet Australian researchers who use stem cells to advance our understanding of how the body develops and what happens during disease.

Professor Christine Wells is the Deputy Program Leader at Stem Cells Australia and the Director of the University of Melbourne’s Centre for Stem Cell Systems

Christine’s lab at the University of Melbourne is uses pluripotent stem cells to create macrophages in the laboratory. Macrophages are an immune cell that play an important role in our health: they remove cellular garbage, invading germs and cancer cells from our body. 

The lab is looking to understand the molecular rules of cellular identity, using macrophages as a model. Once the rules are understood, it might be possible to reprogram a cell in a dish to take on new functions that the cell would not normally undertake. Nadia Rajab, a PhD student in the Wells Lab, is looking to understand cellular memory by studying macrophages she makes from patient blood cells. 

Understanding the rules requires reading large and complex datasets. Christine also directs Stemformatics, an online encyclopaedia of hundreds of high-quality stem cell data. Christine also collaborates with statistics experts like Dr Kim-Anh Le Cao, to find trends in the data.

Read more about their research in Stem Cells Australia: Tomorrow’s medicine starts today

Christine believes the next generation of regenerative medicine will move away from mimicking cells to designing reprogrammed cells that will be made for a specific purpose. 

Listen to Christine and Nadia share an insight into their research, their joy of working in a team and their excitement at shaking up the face of medicine through understanding the rules of cellular identity. 


Australian stem cell researchers are making important discoveries in the lab, that will move research outcomes towards clinical applications. Watch their videos.