Smith headshot

Professor Austin Smith

Stem cell potency


Laboratory Location:

Gleeson Building

Departmental Affiliation:

Department of Biochemistry


As an undergraduate in Oxford Austin Smith became captivated by pluripotency He pursued this interest through PhD studies in Edinburgh and postdoctoral research back in Oxford. He returned to Edinburgh as a Group Leader in 1990 and from 1996 was Director of the Centre for Genome Research, later the Institute for Stem Cell Research. In 2006 he moved to Cambridge where he was the founding Director of the Stem Cell Institute.

Professor Smith is a Medical Research Council Professor, an EMBO Member, and a Fellow of the Royal Societies of Edinburgh and of London. In 2010 he was awarded the Louis Jeantet Prize and in 2016 he received the ISSCR McEwen award for Innovation.


Isaac Newton Trust, Wellcome Trust, Medical Research Council, University of Sheffield, European Commission, Microsoft Research

External Links

Smith research image 2-1ratio

We propose that pluripotency may be partitioned into three phases; naïve, formative, and primed. Mouse embryonic stem cells correspond to the naïve stage while post-implantation epiblast stem cells (EpiSCs) represent primed pluripotency. Conventional human pluripotent stem cells are more similar to EpiSCs. Our current research indicates that these human cells can be “reset” to a naïve state and furthermore that naive cells may be captured directly from the human embryo. (Credit – adapted from Kalkan & Smith, Proc Roy Soc 2015)


We study pluripotent stem cells. These are cell lines derived from early embryos that retain the potential to generate all somatic cell types. Our goal is to understand how they maintain this broad potency and how they transition into lineage specification and commitment. We compare pluripotent cells from different mammals to elucidate common principles and species-specific adaptations. 

Group Members

Nicholas Bredencamp

YaoYao Chen

James Clarke

Rosalind Drumond

Ge Guo

Tuzer Kalkan

Masaki Kinoshita

Meng Amy Li

Harry Leitch

Sam Myers

Mariya Rostovskaya

Meryem Ralser

Stanley Strawbridge




Plain English

In the early embryo a small group of cells acquire the ability to make all cell types of the animal. This property is called pluripotency. It is possible to grow pluripotent cells in the laboratory. These are called embryonic stem cells. Research with mouse embryonic stem cells over the past 10 years has identified the master genes that control pluripotency. However, there is still an important part that we do not understand well; how do the pluripotent cells choose to make different types of tissue? We study this question in mouse, rat and human. An aim of this work is to obtain human embryonic stem cells with well understood properties that can provide a reliable foundation for pharmaceutical research and clinical applications.

Key Publications

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