The overall focus of our group is on gene regulatory control mechanisms underlying cell fate decisions during vertebrate embryogenesis. This is divided into two main areas:
Trophoblast Stem Cell (TSC) differentiation
TSCs are a multipotent cell type of foetal origin, which gives rise to the range of distinct trophoblasts subtypes within the placenta. Different trophoblast subtypes control different aspects of placenta function, such as maternal-foetal exchange, hormone production and expansion of the maternal vasculature to enhance the blood supply to the developing foetus. We culture and study mouse TSCs in the lab to investigate the molecular mechanisms controlling cell fate decisions during trophoblast differentiation using genetic, functional genomics, transcriptomics and proteomics approaches. This will help us to understand how the placenta develops correctly to maintain a healthy pregnancy, and how defects in placenta formation can lead to pregnancy complications such as preeclampsia.
Endoderm specification and differentiation
Endoderm, one of the three primary germ layers in the early vertebrate embryo makes direct contributions to several organs including liver, pancreas, and the digestive and respiratory tracts. A major goal of our research is to understand how gene regulatory networks control the specification of endoderm and its diversification into different endodermal cell types. To address this we use both zebrafish embryos and differentiating mouse embryonic stem cells as model systems, combined with genetic, functional genomic and transcriptomic approaches. Understanding how different endoderm cell types form during development will provide key insights into developmental disorders, and lead to refined regenerative medicine strategies.