Central Michigan University's Xantha Karp, assistant professor of biology, has received a grant from the National Institutes of Health to further her research into stem cell biology.
Karp will receive $350,687 to continue investigating a quiescent, or resting state, called dauer. She will look into how specific cells regulate their genes when in this phase, hoping to determine which switches can help stem cells stay healthy over long periods.
"We are focusing on a gene called FOXO that is important in mammalian stem cells," Karp said. "In worms, FOXO appears to reset certain genetic pathways during dauer to help stem cells produce the correct cells."
Ultimately, Karp is hoping that her work will lay the foundation for new stem cell therapies.
Stem cells divide to replenish cells that are lost because of injury or normal wear and tear. However, some stem cells spend most of their time in a resting state called quiescence. During quiescence it is important for stem cells to keep their ability to produce only the correct types of cells.
"For example, a blood stem cell must be able to produce both red and white blood cells, but not skin cells, "Karp said. "It is unclear how stem cells retain this ability during quiescence."
The microscopic nematode C. elegans serves as Karp's tool to investigate this question. C. elegans cells are a useful model for mammalian stem cells because the worms are simple and easy to study, yet they share many genes with mammals, including genes involved in stem cell biology.
"NIH has found our previous research promising, and I think we are on the right track," she said.