Professor Uri Frank from the Centre for Chromosome Biology at NUI Galway has received an Investigator Award through the SFI-HRB-Wellcome Partnership, for his research into the ‘Mechanisms that induce dedifferentiation to drive regeneration in the absence of stem cells.’
The study will address the mechanisms that are activated following tissue and organ loss, driving specialised cells in the body, like muscle cells and neurons, to exit their status and become unspecialised stem cells. These stem cells can then contribute to the regeneration of lost body parts. Since humans and other mammals have poor capabilities to regenerate, these experiments will be performed on Hydractinia, a native Irish marine invertebrate, closely related to jellyfish, sea anemones, and corals. Like many of its kin (collectively known as cnidarians), Hydractinia can regenerate any lost body part, including the head, and is easy to maintain and manipulate in the laboratory.
Professor Frank’s team discovered that Hydractinias, which normally regenerate by using resident stem cells, can activate a ‘plan B’ to regenerate in the absence of stem cells. A yet unknown mechanism guides specialised cells to revert to unspecialised stem cells that directly contribute to tissue regeneration and the research funded by Wellcome aims to identify this mechanism.
All animals, humans and jellyfish included, are related, having descended from a single common ancestor. Therefore, they share many genetic and cellular mechanisms. Hydractinia’s stem cells should be very similar to their human counterparts, and studying them may provide information on human stem cells and help develop new strategies to be used in regenerative medicine.
Speaking about his SFI-HRB-Wellcome Partnership award, Professor Uri Frank, a developmental biologist from the Centre for Chromosome Biology at NUI Galway, said: “This funding will allow us to study the molecular mechanisms that drive decision-making in cells.”
Professor Noel Lowndes, Director of the Centre for Chromosome Biology at NUI Galway, said: “This large and highly prestigious award makes it a total of four Wellcome funded researchers based in NUI Galway’s Centre for Chromosome Biology. Professor Frank now joins Professor Brian McStay (Investigator Award), Dr Elaine Dunleavy (Research Career Development Award) and Professor Ciaran Morrison (Seed Award) as Wellcome Trust Awardees.”
Dr Ciarán Seoighe, Deputy Director General of Science Foundation Ireland, said: “We are delighted to partner with the HRB and Wellcome to co-fund research that can bring significant societal benefit to Ireland. Professor Uri’s work is a prime example of this. The SFI-HRB Wellcome Biomedical Partnership Awards demonstrate what can be achieved through collaboration between funding agencies that share a common ambition of supporting impactful research.”
The Centre for Chromosome Biology is the leading unit in Ireland for fundamental research into the structure of chromosomes and how they are replicated, repaired and segregated during cell division.
This award is co-funded by Science Foundation Ireland and the Health Research Board under the SFI-HRB Wellcome Research Partnership.