Centre for Health and Bioinformatics

Profile

Professor Majlinda Lako

Prof of Stem Cell Science

Background

I am a member of the Biosciences Institute and my work contributes to the Regenerative Medicine, Stem Cells and Transplantation research Theme.  I am also part of the Neuroscience NUCoRE.

Current and Previous Positions

2019 - to date    Co-director of Regenerative Medicine, Stem Cells and Transplantation

2009 - to date    Prof. of Stem Cell Sciences, Newcastle University

2009-2010         Sabbatical fellow at Centro de Investigacion Principe Felipe, Spain

2008-2009          Reader in Stem Cell Biology, Newcastle University

2004–2008         Senior Lecturer in Stem Cell Biology, Newcastle University

2003–2004         Lecturer in Stem Cell Biology, Newcastle University

1998–2003         Senior Research Associate, Department of Biological Sciences, Durham University

1994–1998         Junior Research Associate, Department of Human Genetics, Newcastle University

 

Group members:

Dr. Birthe Hilgen

Dr. Marzena Kurzawa-Akanbi

Dr. Agata Rozanska

Dr. Chunbo Yang

Dr.  Maria Georgiou 

Dr. Sanja Bojic

Miss Madeleine Carter (research technician and PhD student) 

Mr. Robert Atkinson (PhD student) 

Miss Avril Watson (PhD student) 

Miss Rozaliya Tsikandelova (PhD student) 

Mr. Rodrigo Cerna Chavez (PhD student) 

Miss Marina Moya Molina (PhD student) 



 

Research

Research activities

The primary approach in our research group is to use pluripotent stem cells to mimic human development using in vitro model systems. The experience of deriving human embryonic stem cells in 2003, led to a broader interest in the pluripotent stem cell biology, which enabled my team to describe for the first time the difference in transcriptional profile and signalling pathways between human and mouse embryonic stem cells and the intrinsic link between maintenance of pluripotency and cell cycle control. Pursuing novel differentiation methods and mimicking embryonic development, we were able to generate long-term engrafting hematopoietic stem cells, a finding of great interest in the field, which was published in Cell Stem Cells and accompanied by several press releases.

Following Yamanaka’s seminar discovery of human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs), our group was one of the first in UK and EU to embrace the technique and to use it successfully for studies of reprogramming, differentiation and disease modelling. With this expertise, my group was an important contributor to the IMI1 funded hiPSC initiative “STEMBANCC”, which involved cooperation of multiple EU academic and large pharma companies. During this project, we group derived and characterised >450 patient specific hiPSCs, which are currently used worldwide for studies of neurodegeneration and drug discovery.

A cornerstone of our work has been the clinical implementation of stem cell therapy in patients with total and severe limbal stem cell deficiency. Work carried out in my group in collaboration with Prof. Figueiredo has resulted in the development of a GMP compatible culture system for expansion of limbal epithelial cells which have been transplanted into patients with unilateral limbal stem cell (LSC) deficiency.  In the last 15 years, 34 patients have been transplanted successfully and now have a greatly improved vision and quality of life. This is the first example of corneal transplantations in the UK carried out in the absence of any animal derived ingredients. This is the first example of corneal transplantations in the UK carried out in the absence of any animal derived ingredients, which was awarded the orphan designation status by EMA in 2013 (EU/3/13/1168).

Our parallel research programme aims to perfect the differentiation of human pluripotent stem cells to fully laminated retinal structures capable of recapitulating the function of a human retina in vivo. Funded by an ERC Consolidator Award, my group has established an efficient differentiation system to generate optic cup structures which undergo further differentiation to laminated neural retina containing all the retinal cell types. Importantly, these structures are similar not only to the structure of the human retina, they also respond to light stimulation by generating measurable electrophysiological signals, work which has been showcased in EU press releases (https://erc.europa.eu/projects-figures/stories/can-we-grow-artificial-retina). This gives us an unparalleled opportunity to use this technology in constructing models of retinal disease; in this respect, we have been able to establish hiPSCs from patients suffering from both retinitis pigmentosa and AMD, have corrected the faulty genes using Crispr/Cas9 technology and are currently in the process of designing gene therapy trials in collaboration with Prof. Robin Ali at KCL. With the same technology, we have targeted reporter genes to key retinal factors that control rod and cone commitment, thus enabling us to track their emergence during differentiation process, to delineate for the first time their transcriptome at the single cell level and to study their engraftment in degenerate retina, which has led to proof-of-concept early translational studies of human photoreceptor transplants in animal models of advanced retinal degeneration.

In the last three years and funded by MRC and BBSRC UK, our research team has generated single cell maps of adult and developing human cornea and retina in normal steady state and disease conditions. The publication reporting the first integrated single cell atlas of human cornea was published by the prestigious  Ocular Surface journal and was the subject of a BBC5 live interview with Naga Munchetty on the 19th of March 2021. These data have been extremely useful for assessing the SARS-CoV-2 entry genes in the upper airways and ocular surface, an effort, which has enabled us to interact closely and share data freely with all the groups working under the Human Cell Atlas initiative. This joint work is featured in five recent manuscripts, published in Nature Medicine, Circulation, Ocular Surface, and Stem Cells Translational Medicine and several press releases (https://www.ncl.ac.uk/press/articles/latest/2020/04/nosecellscovid-19/). In recognition of these efforts, we were awarded BBSRC funding to further explore the SARS-CoV-2 infection of the ocular surface.

 

Teaching

Prof. Lako is a regular contributor to the MRes course on Stem Cells and Transplantation. Every year her lab hosts two BSc, two MRe and several Erasmus exchange students.

Publications