Current Research and Scholarly Interests
Our laboratory is generally interested in the molecular mechanisms that determine specific cell fates.
Recently, we have identified a pool of transcription factors that are sufficient to convert skin fibroblasts directly into functional neuronal cells that we termed induced neuronal (iN) cells. This was a surprising finding and indicated that direct lineage reprogramming may be applicable to many somatic cell types and many different directions. Indeed, following our work others have identified transcription factors that could induce cardiomyocytes, blood progenitors, and hepatocytes from fibroblasts.
We are now focussing on two major aspects of iN and iPS cell reprogramming:
(i) we are fascinated by the puzzle how a hand full of transcription factors can so efficiently reprogram the entire epigenome of a cell so that it changes identity. To that end we are applying genome-wide expression analysis, chromatin immunoprecipitation, protein biochemistry, proteomics and functional screens.
(ii) it is equally exciting to now use reprogramming methods as tools to study or treat certain diseases. iPS cells have the great advantage that they can easily be genetically manipulated rendering them ideal for treating monogenetic disorders when combined with cell transplantation-based therapies. In particular we are working on Dystrophic Epidermolysis Bullosa in collaboration with Stanford's Dermatology Department. An exciting application of iN cell technology will be to try modeling neurological diseases in vitro. We perform both mouse and human experiments hoping to identify quantifiable phenotypes correlated with genotype and in a second step evaluate whether this assay could be used to discover novel drugs improve the disease progression.