Professor Pentao Liu, PhD | The University of Hong Kong; Shuofeng Yuan, PhD; Degong Ruan, PhD; Zhuoxuan Li, BSc.
Competition Sponsor: Research Grants Council of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, China
Awardee year: 2022
Ageing is a natural process, but healthy ageing and longevity can help alleviate the heavy burdens that ageing brings to the society. Besides causing detrimental health deterioration in elderlies, the biological process of ageing is implicated in many human diseases such as cancer. Studying human ageing directly is time-consuming. Model organisms such as yeast, C. elegans, D. melanogaster and mouse are often used to investigate ageing mechanisms at the molecular, cellular and systematic levels. However, findings from these model organisms may not fully reflect the molecular and physiological events in human ageing. Human cellular models have also served to investigate ageing but may only represent partial insights into normal ageing processes.
During pregnancy, trophoblasts in the placenta nourish and protect the foetus. The generation of mature trophoblasts (syncytiotrophoblast or STB, and extravillus trophoblast or EVT) from progenitors is an accelerated ageing process accompanied by multiple ageing manifestations. We find that trophoblast stem cells (TSCs) derived from the embryo tissues and human pluripotent stem cells can differentiate in culture to mature trophoblasts in vitro mimicking the natural process in the placenta. We propose to use the generation of mature human trophoblasts from TSCs as a new cellular model for studying human normal ageing process and screening anti-ageing drug candidates. This new cellular system is expected to facilitate ageing-related fundamental and translational research.