Research Interests: Molecular mechanisms of cell fate specification during blood vessel development and organogenesis

More specifically, the focus of our research is the developing vascular endothelium. We want to answer the questions: how do tissues direct blood vessel patterning via angiogenic factors and, how does the endothelium, in turn, influence embryonic cell differentiation? Our hypothesis is that reciprocal signals underlie the coordinated growth of blood vessels and morphogenesis of organs, and that mutual signaling forms the basis for interdependent physiological relationships that last into adulthood. Understanding this endothelium-tissue crosstalk will be the focus of our research.

Recently, we have demonstrated a developmental role for endothelium in the induction/maintenance of pancreatic beta cells, while another group has identified its influence on hepatic cells. The gene products and signaling molecules mediating these effects, however, have not been identified. Elucidating the nature of endothelial signals during development will help uncover the role blood vessels play in organogenesis, tumorigenesis, tissue maintenance and perhaps stem cell differentiation.

By using the mouse and the frog as model systems, we are able to combine genetics, molecular manipulations, in vitro culture techniques and classical embryology to investigate cell differentiation, patterning and key signaling molecules in development. Using these techniques, we hope to build a comprehensive picture of the fundamental mechanisms that underlie the coordinated growth and interdependence of blood vessels and organs. Understanding these principles will help us to identify and characterize molecular lesions that underlie human birth defects and disease.