MAR 19, 2014 01:00 PM PDT

Engineering reproducible neural tissue from pluripotent stem cells

Presented At Neuroscience
  • Assistant Professor, University of Victoria Engineering, Canada
      Dr. Willerth currently holds a Canada Research Chair in Biomedical Engineering at the University of Victoria where she is dually appointed in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Division of Medical Sciences. Her research group investigates how to engineer neural tissue by combining pluripotent stem cells, controlled drug delivery and biomaterial scaffolds . She has given invited talks at the Till and McCulloch Annual Meeting and at the 1st Annual British Columbia Stem Cell and Regeneration Medicine Initiative Meeting as well as presented at the 9th Annual World Biomaterials Congress in Chengdu, China. She belongs to both the Brain Research Centre (BRC) and the International Collaboration on Repair Discoveries (ICORD) - B.C. based organizations committed to treating brain diseases and disorders and finding long term treatments for the repair of spinal cord injuries respectively. Before accepting her faculty position, Dr. Willerth completed an NIH post doctoral fellowship at the University of California-Berkeley and graduate studies at Washington University.


    The Willerth lab investigates how to engineer neural tissue by combining pluripotent stem cells, controlled drug delivery and biomaterial scaffolds. When generating these replacement tissues, we use both embryonic and induced pluripotent stem cells as these cells can become any cell type found in the body, including those cells found in the nervous system. Our recent projects have used human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs), which are adult cells reprogrammed back into an embryonic stem cell-like state, leading to the possibility of generating patient specific pluripotent stem cell lines with a reduced risk of immune rejection post transplantation. Recent work suggests that these hiPSC lines show a decreased risk of tumor formation compared to traditional embryonic stem cells, further enhancing their clinical relevance. To generate neural tissue, we seed these cells into different types of drug releasing scaffolds. These novel biomaterial scaffolds direct the stem cells to form functional neural tissue by delivering appropriate chemical and physical signals. Once we fully understand how to engineer neural tissue from stem cells, we can then apply these principles to produce other tissues found in the body.

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