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Sara-Jane Dunn

Uncovering the logic of stem cell programs

The developmental process by which complex tissues, organs and organisms develop begins with pluripotency: the ability of so-called ‘naïve’ embryonic stem cells to generate the full spectrum of adult cell types, as well as the germline. Understanding how these cells differentiate to diverse fate-restricted lineages is key both to understand the biological programs that govern development, but also to utilise the power of these cells for regenerative medicine. Fate decisions arise as the consequence of a complex interplay between regulatory factors, and while experiments have revealed critical genes and possible interactions between them, our understanding of stem cell decision-making remains fragmentary. Against this backdrop, automated reasoning provides a powerful strategy to navigate this complexity and to derive interaction networks that are consistent with experimental ‘specifications’. These networks can subsequently be used to formulate predictions of untested behaviour that guide experiment and inform model refinement. In this talk, Sara-Jane will describe such a reasoning methodology, which has been applied to investigate stem cell pluripotency through an iterative computational and experimental strategy. Furthermore, she will show how this approach has generated insight into how fate-restricted cells can be ‘reprogrammed’ to the embryonic stem-like state.

Sara-Jane Dunn

Sara-Jane Dunn  

Biological Computation, Microsoft Research Limited 

Sara-Jane Dunn is a Senior Scientist at Microsoft Research. She studied Mathematics at the University of Oxford, graduating with a MMath in 2007. She remained in Oxford for her doctoral research, joining the Life Sciences Interface Doctoral Training Centre and subsequently the Computational Biology group at the Department of Computer Science. In 2012, she joined Microsoft Research as a Postdoctoral Researcher, before transitioning to a permanent Scientist role in 2014. In 2016, she was invited to become an Affiliate Researcher of the Wellcome Trust-Medical Research Council Stem Cell Institute, University of Cambridge. Her research focuses on uncovering the fundamental principles of biological information-processing, particularly investigating decision-making in Development.