Xantha Karp discusses her research on how to keep stem cells healthy

Her research was funded by a 2023 NIH grant.

| Author: Conner Leslie | Media Contact: Kara Owens

Xantha Karp, PhD in Genetics and Development received a NIH grant in 2023 for her research titled “Regulation of Adult Cell Fate by FOXO and RNA Binding Proteins”. The point of her research is to understand how stem cells stay healthy during long periods of rest. 

Stem cells are the cells in our bodies that divide continuously  or develop into specialized cells like red blood cells or white blood cells that fightinfection. For some periods of time our cells do not need to continuously divide and so they just stay waiting, this is called quiescence. The question Karp is asking is how do stem cells not change during quiescence, what keeps them the same if our body is constantly adjusting and changing with the challenges around us? 

Karp’s team researches this question by using a microscopic model animal called C. elegans. They use these worms that enter into a highly stress –esistant, hibernation-like state called dauer and that stay dormant until the condition changes around them. In searching for genes that regulate the dauer state, Karp has discovered two genes in the worm that are similar to human genes, one being a FOXO gene which is a type of gene that can control whether other genes change or “turn on and off”. Another gene named DCP-66 has also been found that may more directly regulate a cell’s fate . 

Karp believes that this research will tell us how developmental processes are regulated within stem cells, during a state of quiescence. They predict their findings in the model system will be applicable to understanding the regulation of human stem cells.  

This story is brought to you by the Office of Research and Graduate Studies.

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