My research is focused on animal regeneration and the stem cells that power this process. The main exprimental system we use is the planarian flatworm model system, and this allows us to study basic questions about how tissue regeneration is orchestrated and the features of stem cell biology that facilitate this. These animals rely on a population of remarkable pluripotent adult stem cells called neoblasts, that underpin these animals regeneration capacity and apparent immortality. Furthermore, we can use planarians to study the molecular mechanisms related to both cancer and aging, such as stem cell proliferation, differentiation and migration, that are all tightly controlled by conserved molecular mechanisms during regeneration.
Highly regenerative animals solve the regeneration problem using different cellular solutions, includng the use of pluripotent stem cells, lineage committed adult stem cells and dedifferentiation of tissue specific cells that regain potency. We hope to expand our work in planarians to investigate some of these in other appropriate animals to see if they can provide further insight into the relationship between regeneration, stem cells and ageing. For example, we have recently sequenced the genome of the amphipod crustacean Parhyale hawaiensis, that is able to regenerate its many different types of limbs. We are now investigating the regeneration and stem cell biology in these animals, which is fundamentally very different from planarians.