Prof. Dr. Hans R. Schöler
Tel.: +49 251 70365-300
Fax: +49 251 70365-399
E-mail: office (at) mpi-muenster.mpg.de
Yet they do transform themselves…
As recently as a few years ago, everything seemed so clear: With the birth of a human being, the organism reaches a point of no return. Whether it’d be a skin, hair, fat or blood cell, no differentiated cell in the body – so one thought – can ever become different from what it is.
But this dogma has been toppled from its pedestal. Initial studies have shown that mature body cells can, in fact, be transformed into jacks-of-all-trades, similar to embryonic stem cells. Like the latter, the reprogrammed cells have a fascinating capability called pluripotency: They are able to transform themselves into more than 200 types of body cells. Much hope has been placed in these cells, as it may be possible to treat incurable diseases, such as Parkinson’s or diabetes, using the patient’s own healthy replacement cells.
But, how does pluripotency develop and what are the mechanisms that drive this process? Hans Schöler and his team have made good progress in answering this question. The researchers have shown that a gene called Oct4 plays a key role. Normally, it is only expressed in two types of cells, which are completely undeveloped: embryonic stem cells and precursors of egg and sperm cells (gametes). By contrast, in all mature cells, Oct4 is in a Sleeping Beauty−like state. If we want to transform mature cells into pluripotent cells, Oct4 must be targeted and activated.
Today, we already have several techniques at our disposal. However, until now none has proved optimal. MPI researchers are therefore striving to develop methods with which the reprogramming of Oct4 (and any other required genes) can take place in a more targeted way and with as few adverse effects as possible for the patient.
Notice: This year Hans Schöler will not accept any CiM-IMPRS graduate students. In addition, there are currently no vacancies and vacant internships in the Department of Cell and Developmental Biology - we therefore do not accept applications. Please see 'Vacancies' for open positions.