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Speaker: Professor Austin Smith, Director of the Wellcome Trust/MRC Stem Cell Institute, University of Cambridge
The main objective of the Smith group is to characterise the cellular and molecular mechanisms governing the self-renewal and differentiation of multipotential embryo stem cells, of mouse, rat and human origin. Stem cells are defined by the ability both to produce identical daughter cells (self-renewal) and to produce progeny with more restricted fates (commitment and differentiation). This property of stem cells underpins growth and diversification during development and sustains homeostasis and repair processes throughout adult life.
An understanding of molecular mechanisms which govern stem cell fate is therefore of fundamental significance in cell and developmental biology and the capabilities arising from such knowledge have major biomedical applications. Embryonic stem (ES) cells, which are derived directly from the pluripotential cells of the early mouse embryo, can be propagated and manipulated in vitro whilst retaining their full potential for multi-lineage development. Our strategy is to exploit these prototypic stem cell cultures for the identification and characterisation of key regulatory molecules, to determine the significance of these molecules in vitro and in vivo, and thence to develop improved methods of stem cell propagation and manipulation.