3D imaging of pancreas hyperplasia

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Overview of stem cell function

Figure 1: Overview of stem cell function. Stem cells have the capacity to self-renew and to give rise to specialised cell types. The balance between proliferation and differentiation is crucial for the development and maintenance of a functional tissue. In most organs, stem cells are responsible for replacing differentiated cells that are lost during ageing, and stem cells also help repair damaged tissue. Oncogenic mutations in stem cells are a common cause of cancer. However, given an appropriate stimulus, differentiated cells may transdifferentiate into a distinct fate, or reprogram to a more stem-like tumour-initiating cell.

Every organ harbours adult stem cells which have the potential for long-term replication, together with the capacities of self-renewal and multi-lineage differentiation.

These stem cells function in tissue homeostasis and contribute to regeneration in response to injury. In addition, many cancers are caused by transforming mutations occurring in tissue-specific progenitor cells.

Our major focus is to elucidate the molecular mechanisms governing stem cell function. As well as studying tumour development using murine genetic models, we are now also applying our knowledge of stem cells and cellular differentiation mechanisms to diabetes.