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Dr. Lilach Gilboa: "I hope to reveal the orchestrated steps by which cells of different kinds come together to form a beautifully structured, functioning organ."
Nested within developing ovaries, like Chinese boxes, are primordial germ cells – the earliest stem cells with the potential to eventually give rise to a whole new organism that will, itself, contain the seeds of yet another generation. How does this drama unfold? How do such specialized organs as the ovaries form? Why do they contain a certain number of stem cells and no more? When do these primordial germ cells differentiate into the next stage – adult germ line stem cells? How is it that some of these stem cells undergo further changes to become eggs, while others are maintained in their stem cell state?
To address these questions and others, Dr. Lilach Gilboa of the Biological Regulation Department begins by revealing networks of genes that are active in the developing ovaries of fruit fly larvae. She is particularly interested in the formation of special niches within the ovaries. The primordial germ cells are contained within these niches, where special "helper" cells nurture them and direct their development into germ line stem cells. There, the various niche cells and stem cells engage in a prolonged "conversation" that keeps the system constantly updated.
Because the genes that direct fruit fly ovary development are quite similar to the genes we have in our own bodies, Gilboa's research may shed new light on basic processes of human development. In addition, the insight she is gaining into how the stem cell's environment affects its behavior could help improve the efficacy of stem cell therapies.
Dr. Lilach Gilboa's research is supported by the Helen and Martin Kimmel Institute for Stem Cell Research; the Willner Family Center for Vascular Biology; the Abisch-Frenkel Foundation for the Promotion of Life Sciences; the Abraham and Sonia Rochlin Foundation; the Center for Health Sciences funded by the Dwek Family Biomedical Research Fund and the Maria and Bernhard Zondek Hormone Research Fund; and Lois Rosen, Los Angeles, CA.