Lurie Cancer Center Member
Erica D Smith, PhD
Research Assistant Professor, Cell and Molecular Biology; Feinberg School of Medicine
Cancer Cell Biology
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Stem cell dysfunction likely plays a central role in the pathogenesis of certain human diseases, particularly aging and cancer. The use of simple eukaryotic model organisms in aging research has led to the identification and characterization of many genetic and environmental factors that modulate longevity. The classic invertebrate model organisms, such as nematodes and fruit flies , however, are not ideal models for investigating the role of stem cells in human disease because of the relative absence of adult stem cells in these species.
My research program combines interests from my graduate research (stem cell biology) and postdoctoral work (basic biology of aging) using the freshwater planarian, Schmidtea mediterranea, as a model system. Our goal is to establish S. mediterranea as a model for the study of aging and age-related disease, with emphasis on the role of stem cells in longevity. S. mediterranea represents an excellent model for investigating mechanisms of longevity because of their apparent immortality and remarkable capacity to repair and regenerate tissues . Regeneration in planarians is due to the presence of neoblasts, a pluripotent stem cell population in the adult. To investigate the relationship between stem cells and longevity, we are using known longevity determinants to characterize age-related phenotypes in planaria, paying particular attention to regeneration and tissue homeostasis. We are also investigating telomere homeostasis and it's role in stem cell function in planaria. Together, these efforts will establish S. mediterranea as a powerful model for the study of aging and age-related disease, and bring new understanding into the role of stem cells in longevity.