Current Lab Projects


Current Projects

The Central Nervous System (CNS) is a complex network of numerous cell types. For example the human brain contains about 80 billion neurons associated with roughly 300 billion glial cells, and hundreds of different neuronal and glial cell types have been identified by morphology alone. Understanding how this myriad of different cell populations is generated is a fundamental question in neurobiology and can potentially lead to novel stem cell-based therapies for a diverse array of neurodegenerative diseases. 

All the cell lineages of the CNS are derived from a common pool of multipotent progenitors. Neuronal progenitor cells are intrinsically limited such that a particular progenitor can only differentiate into a subset of cell types at a given time during development. A broadly accepted model proposes that progenitor cells progressively change their competence to generate different cell populations as development proceeds. 

The goal of our research is to decipher the cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying neuronal progenitor competence and differentiation using a combination of cell lines, transgenic mouse models and biochemical approaches. We use the retina as a model system due to its relatively simple cytoarchitecture and high accessibility.

Some of the projects that we are currently pursuing in the laboratory are:

Role of microRNAs in the dynamic regulation of progenitor competence during retinal histogenesis.

Mechanisms of cone photoreceptor fate determination.

Early retinal specification and eye field formation.

Additionally, the retina can be affected by a number of diseases that lead to progressive cell loss and ultimately irreversible blindness.  These devastating conditions affect millions of people worldwide. Recently, advances in human embryonic stem cell (hESC) and induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) technologies have raised the possibility of custom-built cells for in vitro studies, drug screening and cell replacement therapies. In this direction, our group has successfully differentiated hESC and iPSCs into a variety of retinal cell types including photoreceptors and Retinal Ganlgion Cells.