Kathy Niakan

Kathy Niakan obtained a BSc in cell and molecular biology and a BA in English literature from the University of Washington, USA. She was inspired to pursue molecular biology and genetics following undergraduate research experience in the laboratory of Professor Wendy Raskind, with the support of a Mary Gates Research Scholarship.

She obtained her PhD at University of California, Los Angeles, USA with Professor Edward McCabe where she researched stem cell and developmental biology and was supported by a National Institutes of Health Pre-doctoral Training Grant, Paul D. Boyer Fellowship and a Chancellor's Dissertation Year Fellowship.

She was a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Professor Kevin Eggan at Harvard University where she gained experience working with human and mouse pluripotent stem cells and focused on understanding human embryogenesis and the regulation of pluripotency. She then moved to the University of Cambridge as a Centre for Trophoblast Research Next Generation Fellow at the Anne McLaren Laboratory for Regenerative Medicine where she continued to investigate the molecular basis of early cell fate decisions in humans and mice.

Kathy is a group leader investigating the mechanisms of lineage specification in human embryos and stem cells.


The allocation of cells to a specific lineage is regulated by the activities of key signalling pathways and developmentally regulated transcription factors. The focus of our research is to understand the influence of signalling and transcription factors on differentiation during early human development.

During preimplantation development, totipotent human zygotes undergo subsequent rounds of mitotic cell divisions leading to the divergence of pluripotent embryonic cells, which form the foetus, and extra-embryonic cells, which contribute to the placenta and yolk sac.

The central question we are addressing is what are the molecular mechanisms that regulate embryonic stem cell pluripotency and how is it disengaged during cellular differentiation? We seek to define the genetic hierarchy acting during differentiation, the influence of extracellular signalling and the extent to which these mechanisms are conserved between humans and mice. The molecular basis of these early cell lineage decisions are of fundamental biological importance and have significant clinical implications for infertility, miscarriages, developmental disorders and therapeutic application of stem cells.