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Engineering Reproducible Neural Tissue from Pluripotent Stem Cells
In our last article with Dr. Willerth, we introduced her book and a little bit of her research background.
In this week’s post, Dr. Willerth investigates how to engineer neural tissue by combining pluripotent stem cells, controlled drug delivery and biomaterial scaffolds. When generating these replacement tissues, one can 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. Her 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, one seeds 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 one fully understands how to engineer neural tissue from stem cells, one can then apply these principles to produce other tissues found in the body.
About the author:
Dr. Stephanie 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 as an Associate Professor. Her interdisciplinary research group investigates how to engineer neural tissue by combining pluripotent stem cells, controlled drug delivery and biomaterial scaffolds.
Her honors include being named a Women of Innovation in 2017, a 2015 Young Innovator in Cellular and Molecular Biology, a Star in Global Health by Grand Challenges Canada, and the 2014 Faculty of Engineering Award for Excellence in Teaching. She is an active member of the Stem Cell Network and the International Collaboration on Repair Discoveries, who supported her 2016 sabbatical at the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery where she authored this book. She served as both the Director of the Centre for Biomedical Research and the President of the Canadian Biomaterials Society during 2017.
Before accepting her faculty position, Dr. Willerth completed a National Institutes of Health sponsored post-doctoral fellowship at the University of California-Berkeley and graduate studies at Washington University. She received undergraduate degrees in Biology and Chemical Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
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