Fruit fly researcher lands funding fellowship

A University of Dundee scientist has been awarded £568,000 by the Wellcome Trust and the Royal Society to research stem cells within fruit flies, which could have broad implications for understanding how stem cell division can cause cancer in humans.

Dr Jens Januschke from the Division of Cell and Developmental Biology in the School of Life Sciences has received an extension of his Sir Henry Dale Fellowship to investigate how stem cells work and sometimes malfunction in the developing nervous system of Drosophila, also known as the fruit fly.

“Stem cells are specialised cells that are important to replenish damaged or worn out cells and maintain the tissues and organs in our body,” said Dr Januschke. “Given this critical function, it is perhaps not surprising that several human diseases such as cancer can arise if stem cells malfunction. It is, therefore, crucial to understand how stem cells fulfil their tasks normally.”

Over the next three years, Dr Januschke and his team will look into how stem cells asymmetrically divide within fruit flies. This, in turn, could help show how stem cells function in humans, such as protecting tissues or developing diseases.

 “We are specifically interested in understanding the molecular mechanisms that allow stem cells to carry out an asymmetric division leading to different cell fates. We suspect that that cell-to-cell communication influences the mechanical landscape of the stem cell providing important information for symmetry breaking,” explained Dr Januschke.

“Understanding this process has broad implications, as key molecules involved that control this process not only present in flies but also in humans. We hope that in the long term our work will reveal the molecular mechanisms that are implicated in controlling normal stem cell function, they might play an important role in stem cells deviation from their normal developmental program and thus cause diseases.”

Dr Januschke is also working in collaboration with colleagues from Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design and North East of North (NEoN) Digital Arts Festival to deliver a series of workshops on stem cell research through video game development to young people.

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