Computational biologist Elizabeth Mason awarded PhD

Stem cell biologist and biomathematician Elizabeth Mason was awarded her doctorate for her PhD thesis titled 'Variability is a hallmark of human pluripotent stem cells and embryonic development'.

Dr Mason has been a member of the Centre for Stem Cell Systems, and also works with Stems Cells Australia. Her research area is systems biology of stem cells and human development, with a focus on the functional and molecular features of pluripotent stem cells.

Pluripotent stem cells are defined by their potential to become any cell in the human body (pluripotency), and their capacity to continuously divide (self-renewal).  Like identical twins, sub-populations of stem cells that share the same DNA can display different functional and molecular profiles, even when they are grown in the same environment.  This observation tells us that the genes responsible for self-renewal and pluripotency are capable of producing stem cells with a range of molecular profiles, which can have important consequences for functional phenotypic outcomes.

During her PhD, Lizzie developed a new approach to data analysis, which distinguishes the functional and molecular features shared by all individuals in a population from those that promote differences between them.

Her research revealed that variability in the functionality and in the molecular profiles across stem cell populations is as important to understanding cell behaviour as the attributes that they share.  This provides a framework to understand the contributions of genetic, epigenetic and environmental factors in determining the pluripotency spectrum, and the implications of these for downstream functional potential.

Understanding variability advances efforts to produce human cells and tissues in the laboratory for research and therapy, and for understanding how stem cells function in renewal and repair of the body throughout life.

Lizzie was supervised by: Professor Christine Wells (Centre for Stem Cell Systems), Professor Martin Pera (Stem Cells Australia), Professor Ernst Wolvetang (Stem Cells Australia), Associate Professor Jess Mar (Stem Cells Australia) and Professor John Quackenbush (Dana Farber, Harvard University).

Congratulations Dr Elizabeth Mason.

More Information

Elizabeth Mason

03 8344 0613