Emma Rawlins PhD, MRC, is a senior non-clinical fellow, a member of the Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience at the Gurdon Institute, University of Cambridge. She is also a keynote speaker at the 7th International Conference on Stem Cell Engineering in Barcelona, Spain. We recently caught up with Emma to learn more about her presentation.
What specifically will you be talking about at the conference?
I’ll be presenting our work using human embryonic lung organoids to study aspects of human lung development. I’ll be showing some of the different ways we can use the systems we have established to tackle fundamental developmental and cell biological questions.
Being that the concept of stem cell research has been around for quite some time, how has the field evolved and what is the current focus in stem cell research?
The focus of stem cell research has switched from identifying stem cell populations, which is what the field was doing when I started my postdoctoral work in the Hogan lab, to clearly defining cellular and molecular regulatory mechanisms which control stem cell behavior. Of course, one of the most important advances is the recognition that stem cell fate is highly plastic, which is probably highly adaptive for repair and regeneration, but might be a factor which contributes to cancer growth. So the new focus is the details, and it’s those details that will contribute to better understanding of disease mechanisms and, eventually, therapies.
What inspired the Rawlins lab to study the lungs as opposed to another organ?
There was a lot of chance in my decision to work on lung stem cell biology. Following a PhD focused on Drosophila development, I decided to switch to mammalian development/stem cells for a post doc. I was extremely lucky to be able to join the lab of a fabulous mouse developmental biologist, Brigid Hogan. Her lab had historically worked on very diverse aspects of stem cells and development, but as I joined she was moving to Duke to take up a head of department role and had decided to focus her lab on lung stem cells. We are still doing lungs now.
How do you envision research related to stem cells advancing some of the Grand Challenges in engineering and society?
Stem cell research is already leading to personalized medicine, you just need to look at some of the work done by the Clevers lab and colleagues in Utrecht to see that. Future collaborations between stem cell biologists and engineers will continue to advance these therapeutic avenues, but also lead to better tools for studying fundamental aspects of human biology.
Emma Rawlins is an MRC senior non-clinical fellow based at the Gurdon Institute, University of Cambridge, and her laboratory works on lung developmental and stem cell biology and regeneration. Read more