The nature of the instructions leading to a specific cell fate is one of the most puzzling matters in biology today.  The fates of embryonic progenitor cells, and their patterning require a molecular “dialogue” between adjacent cell populations; yet the details of these molecular interactions remain elusive.  Our team aims to unravel the molecular underpinnings of the “cross-talk” between naïve embryonic cells utilizing both avian embryos and mouse genetic approaches.  We focus on the signaling molecules that regulate heart and craniofacial development during early vertebrate embryogenesis. Both heart and skeletal muscles arise from the mesoderm layer of the embryo, although their developmental programs remain distinctly separate.  Our group aims to clarify how various molecular signals influence these distinct cellular outcomes.

Abnormalities in heart or craniofacial development constitute a major proportion of birth defects.  Chronic heart failure and other muscle-related diseases, caused by the loss or dysfunction of muscle cells, can be fatal.  A deeper understanding of the mechanisms that govern normal developmental processes is essential if we are to effectively diagnose, treat and even prevent these disorders.  Moreover, various embryonic cell types are currently being tested for tissue repair in animal models in order to enable the development of stem cell therapies, for the treatment of various degenerative diseases.

Major research projects in the lab:

Combining embryological, molecular and genetic experiments in both chick and mouse models, coupled with a wide range of systems biology methodologies, our studies over the last decade have put us at the forefront of research into craniofacial muscle development. We have uncovered novel and surprising insights into how these muscles arise from the pharyngeal mesoderm that forms the embryonic cardio-craniofacial field. We have also provided important insights into the signaling mechanisms that regulate the specification and differentiation of pharyngeal mesoderm-derived cardiac and skeletal muscle progenitors. We seek to form a bridge between cell and developmental biology, and the emerging field of regenerative medicine, through deployment of various platforms and collaborations that are likely to advance current methodologies for potential therapies.