Student Profile - Dylan Siriwardena

Clare Hall welcomes students from all over the world, working on a broad range of academic subjects. As part of our college news, we publish occasional profiles of our students’ research. Our first student profile is from Dylan Siriwardena, a PhD student who is working on some of the earliest cells that form an embryo.

I am doing a PhD in the Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience. At present, I am doing some of the research at the Central Institute for Experimental Animals in Japan.

All human life can trace its origins to a single cell that divides and differentiates into the great variety of cell types that form the human body. I am currently studying the mechanisms by which these early populations of cells differentiate or ‘choose’ what cell type they will change into. Specifically, I am studying trophoblast stem cells, which are the outermost cells of the early embryo. Their primary role in development is to form the primate placenta. The placenta (and so too trophoblast development) is essential for embryo survival and development as it mediates nutrient and waste exchange between the mother and child.

I am trying to discover what external and internal factors stimulate normal primate trophoblast growth and development during early development: from conception to the first trimester. To do so, I am isolating trophoblast stem cells from marmoset embryos and growing them in various conditions. I hope this will reveal which environmental factors are necessary to form subsequent placental cell types. Moreover, to ascertain how cell types within early primate embryos interact with one another, my colleagues and I aim to generate a ‘marmoset synthetic embryo’. To do so, we will layer the three major early cell types (trophoblast, epiblast, and hypoblast) to form an embryo-like structure and observe how that structure develops over a short period of time. Studying the development of this synthetic embryo will provide unique and invaluable insights into how a small cluster of primate cells has the potential to form a functioning organism.