The Rowland lab uses human pluripotent stem cells as tools to advance our understanding of how cancer initiates and to develop improved cellular model systems.
The cellular microenvironment can guide the fate decisions of stem cells. This includes deciding whether the cells remain stem cells, or whether they differentiate — or turn into — one of many different more mature cell types. The extracellular matrix (ECM) is a key component of the microenvironment that can affect these cell fate decisions, and by better understanding these molecular and cellular processes, we may be able to develop improved differentiation approaches and cellular model systems.
Human stem cells also serve as an ideal model system for researchers to better understand how cancer develops. A specific area of interest is in the activity and expression of telomerase. Telomerase is what makes both stem cells and cancer cells “immortal,” though while it is a normal, healthy function in stem cells, it is an abnormal, pathological function in cancer cells. By better understanding how telomerase is active in both of these cell types, researchers can pursue more targeted, effective cancer treatments.