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Alfonso Martínez Arias

Alfonso Martínez Arias

Universitat Pompeu Fabra

Life & Medical Sciences

I am a developmental biologist. Over the last fifteen years my work has focused on using Embryonic Stem Cells (ESCs) to explore cell fate decisions during mammalian development. Recently, we have developed a novel experimental system which is changing the way to study early mammalian development. Defined numbers of mouse ESCs are aggregated in controlled culture conditions and over time develop structures that mimic the organization of the vertebrate embryo; we call them ‘gastruloids’ because they mirror the process of gastrulation. This system is opening up unforeseen experimental possibilities for studies of mammalian development whose embryos, particularly at the crucial early stages, are difficult to access. Recently we have successfully extended this work to human ESCs and obtained human gastruloids which mimic the postgastrulation body plan thus opening up the possibility to, for the first time, study the process of gastrulation and its consequences in humans.

Research interests

Alfonso was born in Madrid (Spain) and obtained his undergraduate degree at the Universidad Complutense in Madrid (Spain) in 1977 and, in 1983, a PhD from the University of Chicago, Chicago (USA). After a postdoc with Peter Lawrence at the MRC LMB in Cambridge became a Wellcome Trust Senior Fellow and since 2003 until 2021, has been Professor of Developmental Mechanics in the Department of Genetics of the University of Cambridge, Cambridge (UK) working on developmental biology with the fruit fly (Drosophila) and more recently Embryonic Stem Cells. His interests cover the interface of cell and developmental biology with Physics and Engineering. He is a member of EMBO, has been awarded two ERC Advanced Investigator grants and in 2012 received the Waddington medal of the BSDB for his contributions to british developmental biology.

Selected publications

– Steventon, Benjamin; Busby, Lara; Martinez Arias, Alfonso 2021, ‘Establishment of the vertebrate body plan: Rethinking gastrulation through stem cell models of early embryogenesis’, Developmental Cell, 56, 17, 2405 – 2418.

– Mantziou, Veronika; Baillie-Benson, Peter; Jaklin, Manuela; Kustermann, Stefan; Arias, Alfonso Martinez; Moris, Naomi 2021, ‘In vitro teratogenicity testing using a 3D, embryo-like gastruloid system’, Reproductive Toxicology, 105, 72 – 90.

– Sheng, Guojun; Arias, Alfonso Martinez; Sutherland, Ann 2021, ‘The primitive streak and cellular principles of building an amniote body through gastrulation’, Science, 374, 6572, 1213 – +, eabg1727.

ICREA Memoir 2021