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Professor Austin Smith


Austin Smith 2020

Professor Austin Smith

Pluripotent stem cell biology


Laboratory: Cambridge Stem Cell Institute, Jeffrey Cheah Biomedical Centre

Departmental Affiliation: 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.



We study pluripotent stem cells derived from early embryos or generated by somatic cell reprogramming.  These cell lines have the potential to generate all somatic cell types. Our goal is to understand how pluripotent stem cells relate to transient pluripotent epiblast cells in the embryo, how they maintain broad developmental potency, and how they prepare for and make cell fate decisions. We compare pluripotent cells from mouse, human and other mammals to elucidate common principles and species-specific adaptations.


Smith Research 2018

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 Kinoshita and Smith, 2017)



Medical Research Council, BBSRC

In 2020, the Smith group will relocate to the Living Systems Institute at the University of Exeter.



External Links


Smith Group 2017 

Group Members

Hira Butt (visitor), Anish Dattani, James Clarke, Rosalind Drummond, Ge Guo, Tao Huang Masaki Kinoshita, Arthur Radley & Giuliano Stirparo.

For PhD opportunities, please visit the Study section


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