Put simply, my research is based on understanding the mechanisms that establish and maintain cell fate during development. The formation of a living embryo requires incredible regulation to enable cells to proliferate and then adopt a massively diverse range of functional identities, all at the correct time and place. Knowledge of these regulatory mechanisms is necessary if we are to understand how processes are hijacked and deranged in diseases such as cancer, and to enable us to engineer cells and tissues in an ethical and practical way for degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease.
During development, cell identity is strongly influenced by a large family of master regulatory factors that control gene activation ("transcription"), but their mechanism of action is only partially understood. During my PhD studies, I have focused on the nervous and muscular systems, specifically looking at how modified forms of these factors can be synthesised to enhance the formation of nerve and muscle cells. This is relevant for cellular reprogramming where we aim to change the identity and function of adult cells for disease modelling, drug screening and ultimately cell replacement therapies.
My Fellowship work with Professor Anna Philpott, Dr Jason Carroll and Professor John Gurdon uses the developmental model of Xenopus laevis to explore the function of members of this master regulatory family on a more molecular and quantitative scale. My research questions focus on how these key factors can direct different cell identities under different developmental conditions: Questions that are relevant to the fields of developmental biology, oncology and regenerative medicine.
Dr Laura Hardwick
I graduated from Clare College, Cambridge, in 2009 as a Bachelor of Veterinary Medicine, and spent the next three years in clinical work as a veterinary surgeon in small animal practices in Cambridgeshire and Leicestershire. My life-long ambition has been to apply scientific research to promote advances in veterinary and human medicine, so in 2012 I returned to Cambridge to complete a PhD project in developmental neurobiology. I am delighted to be joining Peterhouse for my Junior Research Fellowship, where I can continue and share my work in the biomedical sciences.