Joslin Diabetes Center launches research section on developmental and stem cell biology

tary directions of stem cell research.

Learning Lessons from a Lowly Worm

T. Keith Blackwell, M.D., Ph.D., previously an investigator at the Center for Blood Research in Boston, will lead the Section on Developmental and Stem Cell Biology.

Dr. Blackwell's laboratory uses a simple model organism the microscopic nematode (worm) Caenorhabditis elegans to study the regulation of genes important for the development of germ cells, which form the sperm and egg, and the early embryo. Germ cells represent an important stem cell model because they can give rise to an entire organism. According to Dr. Blackwell, C. elegans is an excellent model organism because its genes can be readily manipulated. By studying how key control genes are regulated, Joslin hopes to discover exactly how embryonic cells differentiate into various types of cells, which may lead to insights into how to reprogram human stem cells to develop into different types of cell including insulin-producing cells. In addition, Dr. Blackwell's work on germ cells in C. elegans is already uncovering basic principles of germ cell self-renewal and function that appear to be active in human embryonic stem cells.

Another major interest of the Blackwell lab is a gene-control circuit that in the early embryo initiates development of the digestive system, which includes the pancreas. This control mechanism later orchestrates one of the body's most important defenses against oxidative stress. Oxidative stress, or an excess of free radicals within the cell, is the major underlying cause of diabetic vascular disease and an important denominator of the health of insulin-producing cells. By understanding how these natural oxidative stress defenses are mobilized, Dr. Blackwell hopes in the future to identify new possibilities for antioxidant therapies that will combat or prevent diabetic complications.

Stem Cells Focus of Studies

Amy Wagers, Ph.D., recently

Contact: Marjorie Dwyer
Joslin Diabetes Center

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