Human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs) are either derived from pre-implantation embryos (hES cells) or, alternatively, from somatic cells, through direct reprogramming (hiPS cells). By definition, they are capable of self-renewal, meaning that they can be indefinitely cultured and expanded. Hence, once established, individual hPSC lines can be used for research in many laboratories. Like the pluripotent cells in the early embryo, hPS cells can, in principle, also differentiate into all cell types of the human body (pluripotency). This fact makes them a great system to study early human development - in a culture dish.
We want to better understand how hPSCs take decisions: to either self-renew or to differentiate along defined routes. In particular, we want to understand how an uncommitted human stem cell can develop into a highly organized heart muscle cell, within about a week. We also use the resulting knowledge for applied purposes such as modeling of human diseases using patient-specific hiPS cells, as well as for drug testing in vitro.