Visiting US researcher establishes new technique to examine stem cells

19 November 2013
Shelley Hough at work in the lab during her visit to Australia

Californian scientist Shelley Hough has introduced new cutting-edge technology that enables her Stem Cell Australia colleagues to have greater insight into how stem cells grow and differentiate.

Working with a number of scientists and graduate students during her yearlong appointment in Prof Martin Pera’s laboratory at The University of Melbourne, Shelley has investigated the diversity in stem cell cultures and found that there are striking differences amongst individual cells - even when the cell cultures appeared to be equivalent.

In collaboration with Prof Christine Wells and the Stemformatics bioinformatics group at The University of Queensland, Shelley was able to demonstrate that such differences are highly valuable.  They were able to identify when a cell was still in a primitive state, in comparison to when it decided to differentiate. They were also able to identify several factors produced by the cells that drove these early events of “fate choice” and explore the role of these factors in both reinforcing the decision to differentiate, as well as influencing the decision of their neighbouring cells. This information will be used to create better laboratory culture systems to minimize diversity and foster differentiation and was presented at the 2013 Single Cell Genomics & Transcriptomics Asia Conference in Singapore.

Key to developing this new approach was the use of recently developed molecular reagents and microfluidic chip technology which allowed the researchers to examine gene expression at the single cell level in several hundred cells. By applying such cutting edge methods, Shelley has been able to establish single cell genomics in the Stem Cells Australia consortium.

During her visit, Shelley also applied her technology to understanding the process of reprogramming, as differentiated cells are directed back into a pluripotent state to generate induced pluripotent stem cells or iPSC. Studies undertaken in the Pera laboratory identified several key genes that may play important roles during the reprogramming process to generate bone fide iPSC.

Shelley also collaborated with Dr Mirella Dottori to develop new ways to examine gene expression in small numbers of neural precursors.

Shelley attended the 2012 Stem Cells Australia Retreat and the inaugural annual collaborative conference of Cell Reprogramming Australia (CRA) where she was able to meet with scientists from across Australia and learn about current efforts to better understand the reprogramming process and to utilize iPSC for regenerative medicine applications.

Shelley’s time at The University of Melbourne has been a rich and rewarding experience for both her and Stem Cells Australia and we look forward to continuing the collaboration upon her return to California.