We are studying human embryonic development using three-dimensional (3D) stem cell-based models, so that we can better understand both development and disease.
The development of the embryo starts from a few cells that divide and differentiate, eventually forming all the cell types of your body. It is important that the cells do this in a coordinated way, making the right decisions in the right place and at the right time.
Because of ethical and technical limitations, we cannot study the human embryo at these stages of development, so we know very little about the dynamics of this process in humans.
Our approach is to use human pluripotent stem cells that we grow under defined conditions to create 3D structures that mirror some of the features of early embryos. Using these model systems, we can examine the emergence of the range of cell types and their spatiotemporal coordination, and the organisation into elements of the mammalian body plan.
Using this model system alongside advanced microscopy, molecular and transcriptomics techniques, we aim to address fundamental questions of developmental biology using systems biology approaches. This will allow us to gain an insight into human-specific aspects of development, as well as enabling the establishment of various disease models that will be used to understand the molecular mechanisms underlying birth defects.