Understanding cancer – what stem cells can teach us about what goes wrong in cancer

15 April 2013

This week renowned British stem cell scientist and cancer expert, Professor Fiona Watt, will visit Australia to discuss her pioneering research into skin stem cells and their role in cancer.

Professor Watt is director of the Centre for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine Research at King's College London, where she is studying normal skin cells in order to understand what goes wrong in skin cancer.

Skin has a highly complex structure composed of several layers of cells. Skin stem cells, found in the bottom layers, divide to produce the cells that make up these layers and specific structures such as hair follicles and sweat glands. Cell are lost from the skin every day, so the growth of stem cells must normally be tightly controlled to maintain the essential barrier function and integrity of this tissue.  If these control mechanisms are disrupted, so that too many new cells are formed, the excess cell production can lead to cancer.

In discussing her work Professor Watt said, “I’m interested in exactly what goes wrong in skin cancer. We have found new 'markers' that can be used to identify skin stem cells. By studying these molecular cues, we can learn more about the complex interplay that control decision-making in skin”.

Professor Watt will deliver a plenary seminar at the Stem Cells & Cancer symposium at The University of Melbourne on Wednesday 17 April 2013.

Martin Pera, convenor of the Symposium and Chair of Stem Cell Science at The University of Melbourne said, “It is a privilege to have Professor Watt in Australia. Her research over many years has provided unique insight into the sophisticated mechanisms that control normal stem cell renewal in the skin, and how these control mechanisms are hijacked by cancer cells”.

The Stem Cells & Cancer Symposium will also feature leading Australian researchers who will discuss the role of stem cells in conditions such as leukaemia, breast and prostate cancer.

The Symposium is co-hosted by Stem Cells Australia and industry partners Abcam and Sapphire Bioscience.

For more information & registration details about the symposium visit Stem Cells & Cancer 2013.