OpenBio Update – What are we doing?

Following on from Mike’s post about his PhD, now it’s my turn to give you an update!

I am currently undertaking a PhD in stem cell biology with the Cambridge Stem Cell Institute at the university of Cambridge. I am a little different to the boys in that my first year entails three 8-week long rotations in different labs that are affiliated to the Stem Cell Institute, then I will choose a lab to do my final PhD in, so I am due to start proper PhD in September 2015.

I am now doing my second rotation in Tony Greens lab with David Kent at the Cambridge Institute of Medical Research, looking at cell fate choice in hematopoietic blood disorders – specifically myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPN). These diseases are originating in the bone marrow, whereby an excess of particular blood cells are produced (the type of cell involved defines the subtype of disease). The majority of the symptoms of these diseases are reasonably manageable, however there is a huge increase in risk of developing acute myeloid leukaemia. It was found that most patients have a specific mutation in JAK2 (1), which results in uncontrolled signalling and proliferation of blood cells. The stem cell aspect of the disease comes in due to the fact that all blood cells originate from hematopoietic stem cells, and thus by investigating these we can begin to learn more about MPN’s.

Last term I worked at the Gurdon Institute with Meritxell Huch on liver stem cells. It was really fascinating project due to its novelty and the fact you could really see the potential benefits to research. I will be writing a post in more detail but if you want to get a bit of an idea Meri’s paper on liver organoid culture has JUST been published in Cell (2) – definitely a recommended read!

It been a huge learning curve working on something I have never done before with so many different techniques, but I think that’s a really great thing as I have not only learnt so much but really been pushed. It’s also great to get an idea about an academic environment, and to try out different labs and areas.

1) Baxter EJ, Scott LM, Campbell PJ, East C, Fourouclas N, Swanton S et al. Acquired mutation of the tyrosine kinase JAK2 in human myeloproliferative disorders. Lancet 2005; 365: 1054–1061

2) Huch M, e. (2015). Long-term culture of genome-stable bipotent stem cells from adult h… – PubMed – NCBI. [online] Available at:

Written by Livvi Harris

Livvi Harris

I am a first year PhD Wellcome Trust PhD student at the Cambridge Stem Cell Institute currently carrying out a year of rotations, so I can’t quite tell you what my PhD is in yet! I am an ex-pharmacologist (or maybe current?!) from the University of Bath, with 15 months experience of industry after working for the oncology pharmacology team at MedImmune in Cambridge for my placement year.

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