13 December 2012

Lundbeck fellowship to new group leader at BRIC Kim Jensen


It is still a mystery how stem cells constantly renew our body. The Lundbeck Foundation has awarded Kim Jensen, Cambridge University, with a group leader fellowship to study this phenomenon. Kim Jensen will use the fellowship to initiate his own research group at BRIC, University of Copenhagen in 2013 and his aim is to understand the role stem cells play in disease.

The body’s spare parts

On the cell surface, stem cells look the same as all other cells of our body, but they play a very special role. Through regulated divisions, stem cells create new cells that can replace old and worn out cells in our organs.

‘In principle, we live with the skin that we were born with for our entire life – yet the skin is constantly renewed due to the action of the stem cells. In this way, stem cells act as a source of spare parts in our body, says Kim Jensen.

Despite intensive research over the last 10 years, relatively little is known about stem cell behaviour in living organisms. This is what Kim Jensen will try to change using a combination of innovative mouse models and lineage analysis based on labelling of stem cells with illuminating colours.

-Through this model, we can follow the destiny of single stem cells in different organs of the mouse. When a stem cell divides, it will give rise to two new cells that will illuminate in the same colour. And then we can count the cells to see how many new cells a single stem cell gives rise to and see where they locate, says Kim Jensen. 

Stem cell brake lost in disease

Kim Jensen and his colleagues have identified a gene that regulates stem cells behaviour so that they do not divide uncontrolled or at too high speed. The gene is called Lrig1. Popularly, the gene could be called a stem cell brake. Evidence suggests that stem cells are involved in the initiation of different diseases. For example, if stem cells divide too much, it can result in cancer. Opposite, if the stem cells divide too little, it can give ulcers for example in the stomach. And here, the gene that Kim Jensen and his colleagues have identified may play a role.  

-We know that LRIG1 is less active in many cancers. Popularly, you can say that these cells have taken the foot of the brake and therefore divide uncontrolled. A better understanding of how stem cells are regulated in our body will provide us with important knowledge that will help us understand the development of diseases, such as cancer, says Kim Jensen.

Here you can read more about the upcoming Kim Jensen research group at BRIC.