Cella Intrusus

Scientists know that abnormal instances of stem  cell differentiation, the process by which a less specialized cell becomes a  more specialized cell type, can result in degenerative diseases or cancer.

Hear More from Quilong MinUniversity at Albany biologist and PEW Research Scholar Prashanth Rangan has received a $1.43 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to determine precisely how stem cells control their differentiation, and he is doing so by using the Drosophila germline stem cells as a model system. The results of his investigations may aid in the development of treatments for these afflictions.

“The research I am doing here at the University’s RNA Institute will allow us to intervene in the correct cell type and block specific targets to promote or block differentiation,” said Rangan. “The ability to prevent premature differentiation, in the case of degenerative diseases, or to induce differentiation, in the case of cancer, will have tremendous therapeutic impact.”

Rangan’s work as an outstanding young scientist was recognized through funding from the PEW Charitable Trusts. His current NIH award, from NIH’s National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), runs through July 2019. NIGMS supports basic research to increase understanding of biological processes and lay foundations for advances in disease diagnosis, treatment and prevention.

Rangan calls germline cells “the ultimate stem cells,” as they are both totipotent — having the capacity to form an entire organism — and immortal. Thus, paradigms established in the germline can be extended to other stem cell systems. “Drosophila is a superior model system to study questions about stem cell self-renewal and differentiation because of the availability of mutants, markers, RNAi technology and targeted expression methods,” said Rangan.

“This work allows us to understand the biology of stem cells, which can help with the design of therapeutics for regenerative therapy,” he said. “The excellent environment and facilities at both the RNA Institute and the Department of Biological Sciences offer us the opportunity to achieve new insights and push the boundaries.”