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Computational biologist Elizabeth Mason awarded PhD

29 March 2018
Congratulations Dr Mason
Stem cell biologist and biomathematician Elizabeth Mason was awarded her doctorate for her PhD thesis titled Variability is a hallmark of human pluripotent stem cells and embryonic development. 

Dr Mason has been a member of Stem Cells Australia since 2012 as both a PhD Candidate, and a Research Assistant to then Program Leader Professor Martin Pera. Her research area is systems biology of stem cells, with a focus on the functional and molecular features of pluripotent stem cells. 

Pluripotent stem cells are defined by their potential to become any cell in the human body (pluripotency), and their capacity to continuously divide (self-renewal).  Like identical twins, sub-populations of stem cells that share the same DNA can display different functional and molecular profiles, even when they are grown in the same environment.  This observation tells us that the genes responsible for self-renewal and pluripotency are capable of producing stem cells with a range of molecular profiles, which can have important consequences for functional phenotypic outcomes.  

During her PhD, Lizzie developed a new approach to data analysis, which distinguishes the functional and molecular features shared by all individuals in a population from those that promote differences between them.  

Her research revealed that variability in the functionality and in the molecular profiles across stem cell populations is as important to understanding cell behaviour as the attributes that they share.  This provides a framework to understand the contributions of genetic, epigenetic and environmental factors in determining the pluripotency spectrum, and the implications of these for downstream functional potential. 

Understanding variability advances efforts to produce human cells and tissues in the laboratory for research and therapy, and for understanding how stem cells function in renewal and repair of the body throughout life.

Lizzie was supervised by Stem Cells Australia members: Professor Christine Wells, Professor Martin Pera, Professor Ernst Wolvetang, Associate Professor Jess Mar, and Professor John Quackenbush from Dana Farber, Harvard University.

Congratulations Dr Elizabeth Mason.