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Wellcome - MRC Cambridge Stem Cell Institute

 

Professor Kathy Niakan

Genetic regulation of early human development

Email: kathy.niakan@crick.ac.uk

Laboratory Location: Human Embryo and Stem Cell Laboratory, The Francis Crick Institute

Departmental Affiliation: Physiology, Development and Neuroscience

 

Research

The goal of our research is to understand the molecular mechanisms that control early human development. The mechanisms that regulate early cell fate decisions in human development remain poorly understood, despite their fundamental biological importance and wide-reaching clinical implications for understanding infertility, miscarriages, developmental disorders and therapeutic applications of stem cells. We seek to uncover when and how human embryonic epiblast cells are established and maintained, and to understand the molecular mechanisms that distinguish these pluripotent cells from extra-embryonic cells during embryogenesis. We will further develop pioneering methods to investigate gene function during human embryogenesis using CRISPR-Cas9-mediated genome editing, TRIM-Away protein depletion, constitutively active and kinase dead variants of proteins and small molecule inhibitors and activators. These approaches will enable us to directly test the function of genes involved in signalling pathways, and key transcription factors downstream of these pathways, which we hypothesize are involved in the first and second cell fate decision in humans. Altogether, we seek to make significant advances in our understanding of the molecular programs that shape early human embryogenesis, which has the potential to provide fundamental insights and to drive clinical translation.

 

Fluorescent images showing gene expression in human embryos at early and late stage of pre-implantation development, where blue is each cell of the embryo, green is a cell membrane marker, magenta is a placental gene expression. Immunofluorescence analysis of DAPI (blue), F-ACTIN (green), GATA3 (magenta) staining in a human morula (left) and blastocyst (right) stage embryos.

 

PhD programmes

The goal of our research is to understand the molecular mechanisms that control early human development. The mechanisms that regulate early cell fate decisions in human development remain poorly understood, despite their fundamental biological importance and wide-reaching clinical implications for understanding infertility, miscarriages, developmental disorders and therapeutic applications of stem cells. We seek to uncover when and how human embryonic epiblast cells are established and maintained, and to understand the molecular mech

I am involved with the following PhD programmes:

  1. Francis Crick Institute PhD programme. 3 PhD students recruited through this core-funded PhD programme are currently conducting research in our laboratory.
    • A previous student in our laboratory who was recruited through this programme graduated on-time, within 4 years. She spearheaded several projects that led to 2 first-authorships (Genes and Development and Nature Communications), 5 co-authorships, grant funding and a patent that led to industrial collaborations. She is currently a postdoc with Amander Clark at UCLA and is a HHMI Leading Edge Fellow.
  2. University of Cambridge Centre for Trophoblast Research PhD programme. I direct the appointment and management of PhD students who have been recruited and funded by the Centre.
    • The Centre currently supports 8 PhD students, and we recruit 1-3 students per year.

 

External links

Niakan lab homepage

Centre for Trophoblast Research

Centre for Science and Policy