UCL Division of Biosciences


Stern Lab Draft

The research in our laboratory focuses on the processes that establish cell diversity and pattern in the early embryo. We ask the questions: how do cells in the embryo know what fates to adopt, at the right positions and at the right time? What mechanisms ensure that the correct proportions of cells are allocated to different organs?

Current research

Currently, the projects in the lab fall into four major headings:

1.How do higher vertebrate embryos establish their polarity, and what mechanisms coordinate cell movements with gene expression?

2. What mechanisms are responsible for inducing the early nervous system?

3. How is the early nervous system subdivided into forebrain, midbrain, hindbrain and spinal cord?

4. Embryonic stem cells - where are they in the embryo, and can we harness them to understand developmental pathways?

We are particularly interested in discovering mechanisms that represent general principles in development, and therefore follow a multi-disciplinary approach. We choose (or if necessary, develop) techniques that will help us best to answer the questions being asked, rather than being wedded to any particular set of techniques. We do not define our questions based on specific genes, but rather based on the biological event we are trying to understand - we first define the biological process and then try to establish which genes are important for that process. Finally, although much of our research uses chick embryos (because they are easy and cheap to obtain at precise stages of development, because it is easy to manipulate cells, and because a lot is already known about how they develop), we are also not wedded to this as an experimental system. Current projects also involve the study of human populations that generate twins at high frequency to help us identify key genes, and a number of model species including chick and quail, and collaborations with other labs using mouse and human embryos.

Learn more about our research

Research on Stem Cells in the Stern lab

Stem cells are undifferentiated cells with the unique ability to self-renew - that is, to maintain their stem cell status indefinitely as they divide. In some cases they can also be multipotent (ie. they can give rise to many different types of specialised cells). Stem cells play an important role in the development of the embryo but are also present in the adult. Considerable effort is currently being invested worldwide to harness for many different clinical applications, including therapies for many diseases and as a means of testing the effectiveness of pharmaceutical compounds in the laboratory.

We are currently undertaking three research projects on stem cells:

1. Endogenous stem cells in the embryo

2. Genes regulating multipotency and commitment and their role in cancer

3. Chicken embryonic stem cells (ES cells)

Read more about our stem cell research