My lab uses the chick model to study how human beings develop from a single fertilized egg to a newborn with trillions of cells and hundreds of cell types. Our research focuses on a narrow developmental window called gastrulation, during which the epiblast, a pluripotent cell population, gives rise to three principal germ layers (the ectoderm, mesoderm and endoderm) and initiates the first wave of cell lineage specification in animal development. We are particularly interested in understanding how the mesoderm cell population is generated during gastrulation through a process of collective cell shape change called EMT (epithelial to mesenchymal transition). EMT is a phenomenon which occurs not only in normal development, but also in many pathological conditions in humans. Abnormal EMT is one of the major causes in life-threatening diseases such as cancer. Our long-term goal is to understand the molecular and cellular mechanisms governing normal developmental EMT and to use such knowledge for treating abnormal EMTs in cancer. Our ongoing project aims to unravel at subcellular levels how the epithelial-shaped epiblast breaks down its basement membrane in metastable primitive streak cells to initiate EMT.
My lab is also interested in understanding how mesoderm cells, after their formation through EMT, differentiate into many distinct cell lineages. In particular, we are studying how three closely related mesoderm cell populations, the blood, endothelial and smooth muscle cells, are specified and organized into intricately linked hematopoietic and vascular systems which provide oxygen and nutrient supplies to rapidly growing tissues and organs. Our long-term goal in this project is to recreate hematopoietic and vasuclar systems in vitro for disease modeling.
For a detailed description of the reseach projects carried out in our lab, please visit the achievement page.