Galway researcher elected to prestigious scientific body

4 days ago

Prof Uri Frank. Image: University of Galway

Prof Uri Frank and his team conduct research around stem cells and the role that they play in development and regeneration.

University of Galway researcher Prof Uri Frank has been elected a member of the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) in recognition of his life sciences research over the past two decades.

Based at the Centre for Chromosome Biology at University of Galway, Frank now joins colleagues Prof Brian McStay and Prof Noel Lowndes as a member of EMBO, which is Europe’s leading academy across the life sciences.

Frank’s research addresses fundamental questions in the biology of stem cells – cells that have the potential to develop into many different types of cells in the body – and the role that they play in development and regeneration.

His team uses Hydractinia, a creature that is a close relative of the jellyfish, as a laboratory model organism for research. These highly regenerative animals are unusual as they do not succumb to age-related deterioration, nor do they develop cancer.

By understanding how the stem cells of Hydractinia act in mediating these traits, Frank and his team hope to provide insight into how stem cells function in other animals, including those of humans.

“I am delighted to join the international EMBO community, whose members perform basic, curiosity-driven research across the life sciences, contributing essential knowledge for future applications,” Frank said in an announcement today (10 July).

Áine Varley, a former doctoral candidate in Frank’s lab, told last year that a major question in stem cell biology is about the ability of these cells to generate other cell types, such as neurons and muscle, throughout life.

“We addressed the problem by transplanting a single stem cell from a donor animal to a recipient. The single transplanted stem cell was genetically labelled by fluorescent dyes, making it visible in the tissue of the recipient,” Varley said.

“We found that, following several months, progeny of the single transplanted stem cell gradually displaced the recipient’s own cells. Eventually, a complete takeover occurred, thereby the recipient animal became genetically identical to the donor. This ultimately meant that one single stem cell could become any other type of cell in the animal.”

Research in Frank’s lab has been funded by Wellcome Trust, Science Foundation Ireland, the US National Science Foundation, the Human Frontiers Science Program and EMBO.

After completing his PhD at the University of Amsterdam, Frank went on to train as a postdoctoral scientist at the National Institute of Oceanography in Israel and continued for two additional postdoc periods in Jena and Heidelberg in Germany before joining University of Galway in 2005.

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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic