Benjamin L. Martin, Ph.D.
Department of Biochemistry and Cell Biology
480 Life Sciences Building
Stony Brook University
Stony Brook, NY 11794-5215
Office telephone: 631-632-1531
Our laboratory uses zebrafish to understand the molecular basis of stem cell development and cancer pathogenesis.
Stem cell development
Stem cells hold vast potential for treating human disease. Understanding the in vivo behavior and signaling requirements of stem cells is an essential step towards the successful delivery of targeted stem cell therapy. We use the formation of the zebrafish body as a model to understand in vivo stem cell biology.
All vertebrates undergo a period of posterior growth following gastrulation, during which the majority of the body forms from a posteriorly localized population of stem cells within a region called the tailbud. During this period of growth, numerous proliferative, morphogenetic, and fate specification decisions are made that culminate in the proper patterning of mesodermal and neuronal tissue types. Our lab is interested in determining the factors that influence these decisions during development. We use a combination of transgenic and cell transplantation techniques to probe the signaling requirements within individual stem cells.
A common occurrence in the development and pathogenesis of human cancers is the misregulation of genes, signaling pathways, and genetic networks that are normally utilized during development. Deciphering the normal role that these factors play during development can help us understand cancer biology and allow us to develop targeted approaches to treating cancers that have co-opted developmental pathways.
We study the specification and patterning of mesoderm in the developing zebrafish embryo. Recently, the developmentally specific transcription factor Brachyury was identified as a gene that is misexpressed in many different adult human cancer types. In functional tests, Brachyury contributes to the pathogenesis of certain cancers. We studied the function of Brachyury during mesoderm development and discovered that it regulates two signaling pathways, Wnt and retinoic acid. These signaling pathways are critical for the normal development of mesoderm, but are also well known for their role in cancer. We are modulating these pathways in the zebrafish embryo to determine how they specifically affect the molecular and morphological nature of individual cells.
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