MRC Human Genetics Unit
Medical Research Council Human Genetics Unit

Expanding cell numbers is important for generating specific cell types

Collaborative work from the Bickmore group gives insight into how cell number affects cell fate: January 2023

Accompanying image

An increase in cell number is fundamental to development. But this is usually thought to allow organs to grow in size rather than it having any fundamental role in directing cell fate decisions during organ development.

A collaboration between researchers at the Center for Stem Cell Medicine, Copenhagen and the MRC Human Genetics Unit, University of Edinburgh has found that directing human embryonic stem cells to make progenitor cells of the pancreas depends on giving the cells time to increase in number.

The researchers showed that this allows for robust changes to develop in the epigenetic state of the genetic switches which control gene expression.

Expanding cell numbers at critical time points may therefore be an important step in making specific types of cells in culture.

This has relevance to development of cell replacement therapies to treat diseases such as Type 1 diabetes, where particular cell types of the pancreas are damaged or missing.


Expanding endoderm progenitors as an in vitro model for ventral foregut.