In recognition of the leading role women in research, the Queensland Government is holding a competition for female researchers and students in the fields of science, technology, engineering, mathematics. We are delighted that one of Stem Cells Australia’s PhD students – Lizzi Mason – has been nominated for her work in changing the way we think about stem cells, and in particular pluripotent stem cells.
Pluripotent stem cells are a special type of cell with the potential to become any cell in the human body (ie pluripotent), as well as retain the capacity to continuously divide (ie self-renewal). Lizzi’s research is focused on understanding how these cells function, and specifically why and how some stem cells have slightly different attributes and involves coupling biology with complex bioinformatics analysis.
Just like identical twins, individual pluripotent stem cells share the same DNA, yet may have slightly different functional and molecular profiles, even when they are grown in the same environment. This finding shows that the genes responsible for self-renewal and pluripotency are capable of producing a range of individual stem cells with different molecular profiles. This variability can have important consequences for the behavior of stem cells.
Current analytical techniques do not enable researchers to describe or understand this variation between cells in a population, so Lizzi has been developing a new approach that allows these differences to be revealed. She has shown that variability in the molecular profiles and functionality of individual stem cells is as important to understanding cell behaviour as the attributes that they share. This provides a model to understand the full spectra of molecular profiles which manifest from stem cells with the same DNA, improving our ability to predict and control the features of pluripotency and self-renewal. The work represents a new theoretical framework that will guide 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.
Visit CHANGING THE WAY WE THINK ABOUT STEM CELLS to find out more about Lizzi and her research and cast your vote now for the People’s Choice Award! Voting closes on Friday 4 March AEST. Good luck Lizzi!