Dr Emma Rawlins
Stem cell fate in the mammalian lung
Laboratory Location: The Gurdon Institute
Departmental Affiliation: Department of Pathology
From first breath to last gasp, our lungs are an essential organ. Lung architecture is complex and must be maintained throughout life. If things go wrong with lung maintenance, the resulting changes can contribute to multiple different lung diseases. Many of these are degenerative diseases – such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease – and are associated with ageing. Consequently, they are increasing in prevalence worldwide. In common with other organs, the lung is maintained by the function of tissue-specific stem cells which must act on demand to replace old or dying cells. Specifically, the stem cells must do two things:
- produce new daughter cells when required to do so: either too few or too many cells can be disastrous for lung function.
- produce the correct types of daughter cells: changes to cell identity can also disrupt lung function.
The Rawlins lab investigates the mechanisms which control stem cell behaviour in the lungs. We are most interested in how the stem cells in the normal adult lung know which type of daughter cell they need to make and when. Our approach is to use the power of mouse genetics to understand the control of lung stem cell behaviour at the single cell level. This allows individual cells to be analyzed quantitatively in vivo, or by live-imaging in organ culture systems. One current interest is the characterization of a new stem cell population in the airways of the adult mouse lung which is already committed to produce a specific type of daughter cell.
Epithelial stem cells (green) in a developing human lung
Image: Marko Nikolić