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.

Mechanisms of lineage specification in human embryos and stem cells


During early human development totipotent zygotes diverge into pluripotent embryonic cells, which form the fetus, and extra-embryonic cells, which contribute to the placenta and yolk sac. Understanding the molecular mechanisms that regulate pluripotency in human embryos and how is it disengaged during cellular differentiation is of fundamental biological importance. Using single-cell RNA-sequencing of human and mouse embryos we have elucidated conserved transcriptional programs along with those that are human-specific. Through the use of genome editing and modulation of signalling we are uncovering the molecular mechanisms that regulate the establishment and maintenance of pluripotency in human embryos. By uncovering the molecular basis of these early cell lineage decisions we underscore their significant clinical implications for infertility, miscarriages, developmental disorders and therapeutic applications of stem cells.