Engineering and exploiting the stem cell niche

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Key: PiN vectors_28x35-05Lead organisation  PiN-vectors_28x35-08Partner organisation

Director: Professor Stuart Forbes, University of Edinburgh (

Co-Director: Professor Alicia El-Haj, Keele University (

Manager: Dr Jenny Cusiter, University of Edinburgh (

Administrative Assistant: Julie Wallace, University of Edinburgh (

Key focus

The niche (“the soil”) that surrounds stem/progenitor cells (“the seed”) in developing or damaged organs has a profound effect upon the stem/progenitor cells. The focus of our Hub is to exploit therapeutically our understanding of the biology of stem cell niches. We will use this knowledge to optimise the growth and differentiation of stem cells and improve organ regeneration through endogenous repair and cell transplantation.

Key aims

(1) To identify key factors from the study of niche biology that can promote adult and pluripotent stem cell differentiation.

(2) To identify molecular targets to direct stem cells to promote endogenous repair and thereby promote “healthy regeneration” of organs and tissues.

(3) To identify the factors influencing the engraftment and function of transplanted cells in diseased tissues.  We aim to manipulate the abnormal niche created by the inflammation and damage of disease, to improve the longevity and the function of the transplanted cells.

Key translational objectives

The Niche Hub aims to translate the knowledge it accrues from in vitro and in vivo model systems into translational outcomes by taking information from model systems and applying them to human tissues. Key objectives include:

  • Identification of novel molecular targets for drug-based regenerative therapy.
  • Development of better cells for transplantation and screening.
  • Development of better tools and technologies for measuring tissue regeneration.