Prof. Dr. Sommer Lukas

Main Field(s) of Research, Abstract
Multipotent stem cells have to generate various differentiated cell types in correct number and sequence during embryonic development. How this is achieved is of fundamental importance not only to basic biologists, but also with regard to the potential medical use of stem cells for cell replacement therapies and disease modeling. The neural crest is an embryonic population of multipotent stem cells that generates various cell types, including most of the peripheral nervous system, craniofacial bones and cartilage, smooth muscle cells in the outflow tract of the heart, and melanocytes in the skin. Neural crest-derived cells with stem cell properties turned out to be an ideal model system to study stem cell biology, both because of their unique developmental potential and their accessibility to a variety of experimental manipulations. In fact, we have been successfully using genetic mouse model systems and cell culture assays to identify key factors regulating self-renewal and fate decisions in neural crest stem cells.

Intriguingly, cells with the potential of neural crest stem cells have also been found in adult tissues. In analogy to other adult stem cell types, these cells are likely involved in tissue homeostasis and regeneration. Moreover, neural crest-derived stem cells might be implicated in formation of tumors of neural crest derivatives, such as melanoma and neuroblastoma. Indeed, in human melanoma cells and genetic mouse models of melanoma, we have been able to demonstrate a crucial role of stem cell features for tumor initiation, growth, and metastasis formation. Thus, studying processes of normal stem cell development is a promising path towards the elucidation of mechanisms implicated in tumorigenesis.

Main Fields of Research, Keywords
Molecular and cellular mechanisms governing stem cell development. Emphasis on signaling networks regulating neural crest stem cells in development and disease (Neural stem cell; neural crest; neuron; glia; determination and differentiation; extracellular growth factors; transcription factors; melanoma; neuroblastoma).

Special Techniques and Equipment
Cell culture assays, life cell imaging, histology, microarray analysis, conditional and inducible gene ablation in vivo.

Education and Training
We have training opportunities for Diploma students, PhD students, and postdoctoral fellows. Our Phd students are enrolled in one of the PhD programs of the Life Science Zurich Graduate School.