The Oviedo Lab studies planarians to understand the mechanisms of stem cell regulation.

Our Reserarch

The Oviedo Lab is interested in understanding mechanisms of stem cell regulation. Stem cells are critical for embryonic development of all multicellular organisms and also to homeostasis and tissue regeneration during adult stages. Furthermore, the origin of some cancers and many degenerative diseases affecting humans has been associated with changes in stem cell behavior. Despite its importance, little is known about stem cell regulation in their natural environment during adult tissue maintenance and their role in regeneration and malignant cell transformation.

To gain insights into the fundamental regulation of cancer and regeneration, we use a remarkably versatile animal model for studies of stem cell in vivo: planarians. These flatworms possess a large and accessible adult stem cell population (neoblasts) that responds to signals from its microenvironment to support both cellular turnover and regeneration. Planarians possess astonishing regenerative capacity as well as evolutionary molecular conservation of important cellular signaling pathways. A planaria can regrow its body when it is severed in half. Our lab applies cutting-edge molecular techniques to study regeneration, stem cell and cancer biology.

Our long-term goal is to investigate stem cell biology in "real time," with the intention of contributing to the design of innovative stem cell therapies for regenerative medicine and preventing or correcting abnormal cellular behaviors, most commonly seen as cancer.


Regeneration is the restoration of cells, tissues, and organs that have been physically or functionally lost. The molecular bases of this widely distributed process are mostly unknown. Planarians regenerate any part of their body, even entire animals from small fragments. These flatworms provide an excellent framework to pursue fundamental aspects of regeneration. We are interested in understanding the signals and molecules crucial for tissue regeneration.

Stem Cells

Neoblasts are somatic stem cells that constantly proliferate, migrate and differentiate to support tissue turnover and timely respond to restore body parts that have been damaged or lost to injury. Stem cell behavior in vivo is greatly influenced by signals from the surrounding environment. However, the molecules involved in this regulatory “crosstalk” between stem cells and its neighbors remain largely unknown. Our lab aims at understanding the influence of systemic physiological signals and the local environment in the regulation of stem cell behavior.


Recent experiments using the planarian model have demonstrated that genetic manipulation of evolutionarily conserved tumor suppressor genes lead to an increased abnormal neoblast proliferation and histological aberrations similar to those observed in mammalian cancer. The Oviedo Lab is currently investigating genetic and molecular connections between cancerous growths, stem cells and tissue regeneration.