How is a muscle cell different from a neuron? How is a stem cell different from a differentiated cell?
The answer doesn’t lie in the genome, because all the cells within a multicellular organism have the same DNA sequence. Instead, cell identities are driven by tissue-specific gene expression programs, which can be sustained over time and across the cell cycle. But how are these programs initiated in the first place, and what are the mechanisms by which they are maintained? And why is cell identity flexible in some cases but not others?
These questions are inspired by our interest in and fascination by epigenetics, which refers to stable phenotypic changes that are not caused by DNA sequence changes.
The Blanco Lab seeks to understand how epigenetic information is encoded, interpreted, and propagated as cells make identity decisions. The more we understand of this process, the better we’ll be able to use it for health applications—particularly in treatments of selected cancers.
Unlocking the Power to Cure
While most cancer therapeutics aim to kill cancer cells, often with high toxicity, we ask whether we could instead change the identity of cancer cells—by programming them to differentiate and exit the cell cycle.
“Differentiation therapy” has the power to be curative, but requires a deep understanding of how cell fate decisions orchestrate. We pursue this understanding by merging post-genomic era thinking and methodology with traditional biochemistry, and we collaborate with labs that share this interest here at UPENN and across the world.
Join the Lab
The Blanco Lab is seeking new lab members, including postdoctoral researchers, graduate students, and undergraduate students.