Suzan Stelloo is a postdoctoral researcher at Radboud University, where she works on developmental biology. She focuses on the first stage of human development, during which a fertilised egg develops into different cell types.

What are you talking about in your video?

’I’m interested in the early stages of development. Cells grow and divide, but how do they form a heart, for example? You’d prefer to test on human samples, but that’s not allowed. So we use human stem cells. If you grow them under certain conditions, you can make something similar to an embryo, but without the brain and placenta, for example. I am interested in proteins. How do they interact and how do we get different cell types?’

Why did you specialise in this?

’I am part of a twin, an identical twin. There was a certain split that created two people anyway. How can that go well? Sometimes it doesn’t, so what happens when it doesn’t? If we know which proteins are involved in the specialisation of cells, we can understand how different tissues develop. Or what goes wrong when there is an abnormality at birth. I’m doing very basic research at the moment. I was interested in a broader understanding - which proteins are expressed? Now, for the first time, we can test in a human embryo model what happens if we block that one protein. We have never been able to test what the effect is at an early stage of embryo development.’

So what do you do on a day-to-day basis?

’Among other things, I grow stem cells and differentiate them into an embryo model. This takes several days. But I also want to modify the cells and remove proteins. I make new stem cells and manipulate them to see what happens when a protein is removed. I use a mass spectrometer to see which proteins are expressed. I grow stem cells in a 96-well plate. In each well, an embryo model is formed.’