What we do…. Everyone, scientist or not, have wondered at least once in their life how a single cell is able to form a whole embryo. Yet, in our lab, we are working on understanding the molecular mechanisms that instruct the stem cells how to make a human embryo. Our focus in on identifying novel signaling pathways and epigenetic mechanisms that regulate cell-fate decisions during differentiation and organ formation.
Why we study this.... Because around 5% of babies are born with a birth defect and in most cases, the cause is unknown. Also, because a better understanding of human development will help with infertility and pregnancy loss. Finally, because future therapies for organ regeneration rely on better understanding of developmental mechanisms.
Our approach…. In our lab we use human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) and induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (iPSCs) to in vitro modelling specific stages of human development. We guide stem cells to form specific organoids and use them to learn new mechanisms that regulate organ development. As an example of our work, you can check out our last paper , where we use hESC-derived 2D-micropatterned gastruloids: Stronati et al., Stem Cell Reports, 2022.
As a complementary approach, we also use mouse embryos for in vivo analysis of our mechanisms.
Our methods…We like challenges so we work on deciphering complex regulatory networks. For this, we apply a range of genome-wide approaches to understand how signaling pathway effectors and chromatin regulators control gene-expression during cell differentiation. Some of our routine techniques are single-cell sequencing, ChIP-seq, ATAC-seq, RNAscope…
How can you contribute to this research?...
Gastruloid project: This is a follow-up project of the Stronati et al., Stem Cell Reports, 2022. We are now moving to the three dimensional world (3D gastruloids, see Moris et al., Nature 2020) and working on exciting mechanisms that control the formation of the human gastrula in 3D. We are looking for an student willing to help move this project to the next level.
Heart development project: We have recently identified a new factor essential for cardiac cell differentiation potentially involved in birth defects of the heart. We are now incorporating in the lab the model of cardioids (Hofbauer et al., Cell 2020) to assess the role of this factor in the formation of cavities in vitro. We are looking for an student willing to carry this project, starting by introducing the cardiod model in the lab and performing downstream experiments.
If you don’t have experience or background in this area but you are interested in our work, please contact me (Conchi Estaras: firstname.lastname@example.org)!! We prioritize motivation over experience! We are currently a lab of two graduate students and a technician and we are looking for more enthusiastic people to join our team!