Stem Cell Research
One of the challenges when studying genes that cause weight problems has been to find a way to unravel their function by using research in the laboratory. This can often involve working with cells that behave in a way that mirrors or models how real cells work in the body. Stem cells have the ability to grow into different types of cells (heart, kidney, brain cells) in the laboratory and so can be used to study and perhaps in the future, to treat, a variety of medical conditions.
Dr Florian Merkle is a new Group Leader who has recently joined the Institute from Harvard University in the USA where he has been working on stem cells. He has found a way to take stem cells, usually made from a person's skin, and make them into neurons (nerve cells) that work in the hypothalamus, a key part of the brain involved in controlling weight. His team are going to be working with Professor Farooqi's team to test how well these neurons look and behave like the neurons in a real person. They will then work on some of the genes that cause weight problems to investigate how they might affect how neurons respond to hormones like leptin and why they might not work effectively in some people. This is a new exciting collaboration which we hope to develop further in the future.