Scientists find trigger that creates different kinds of cell

A graphical abstract of the studyFaculty scientists have identified an important trigger that dictates how cells change their identity and gain specialised functions. The research brings them closer to being able to understand how complex organisms develop. This new knowledge will improve future research into how cells can be artificially manipulated. Professor Andrew Sharrocks, lead author on the study, said:

“Understanding how to manipulate cells is crucial in the field of regenerative medicine, which aims to repair or replace damaged or diseased human cells or tissues to restore normal function.”

The team focused on part of the genome that helps determine where and when a gene is expressed, known as an ‘enhancer.’ Different enhancers are active in different cell types, allowing the production of distinct gene products in different tissues. In this study, the team determined how these enhancers become active. Professor Sharrocks said:

“All of us develop into complex human beings containing millions of cells from a single cell created by fertilization of an egg. To transit from this single cell state, cells must divide and eventually change their identity and gain specialised functions. For example, we need specific types of cells to populate our brains, and our recent work has uncovered the early steps in the creation of these cells. One of the most exciting areas of regenerative medicine is the newly acquired ability to manipulate cell fate and derive new cells to replace those which might be damaged or lost, either through old age or injury. To do this, we need to use molecular techniques to manipulate stem cells which have the potential to turn into any cell in our bodies.”

One of the current drawbacks in the field of regenerative medicine is that the approaches can be relatively inefficient, largely because scientists do not fully understand the principles that control cell fate determination. Professor Sharrocks added:

“We believe that our research will help to make regenerative medicine more effective and reliable because we’ll be able to gain control and manipulate. Our understanding of the regulatory events within a cell shed light on how to decode the genome”

University receives doctoral training award in regenerative medicine

The University has been chosen to host four new national Centres for Doctoral Training (CDT) in science and cdtengineering. Universities and Science Minister David Willetts revealed details of how the £350m fund will be used to train more than 3,500 postgraduate students. It is the UK’s largest investment in postgraduate training in engineering and physical sciences and will fund more than 70 new centres.

The funding, allocated by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, will target areas vital to economic growth. The four CDTs awarded to Manchester are in ‘Power Networks,’ ‘Next Generation Nuclear,’ ‘Science and Applications of Graphene and Related Nanomaterials,’ and ‘Regenerative Medicine.’

The Regenerative Medicine CDT, led by Professor Cay Kielty of FLS, with support from the faculties of Medicine and Human Sciences and Engineering and Physical Sciences, will tackle the growing need for therapeutic solutions to the ageing, degenerative, and injury-related pathologies faced by our society and address the shortage in skilled scientists equipped to meet these needs. The team will deliver multidisciplinary training in a variety of related areas and provide clinical translational training supported by the Manchester Academic Health Science Centre. This is the only CDT in regenerative medicine to be funded under the new scheme. Professor Kielty said:

“This CDT award enables us to exploit Manchester’s unique biomedical strengths to train future regenerative medicine experts and enhance the health and wealth of the UK.”