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How Can Stem Cells Repair the Damaged Nervous System?

By: , Posted on: July 25, 2017

Image: Pixabay

Stem cells and their potential to cure diseases have captured the imagination of the general public. These cells can become or “differentiate” into multiple, different mature cell types, making them an ideal cell source when engineering replacement tissues. While T.V. shows like American Horror Story and Orphan Black depict these cells as miracle cures for everything from cancer to aging, scientists are hard at work trying to harness their potential and turn these scenarios into reality.

Tissue engineering combines cells with other components such as biomaterial scaffolds and biomolecules as way to generate replacements for diseased or damaged organs. Neurological diseases, like Alzheimer’s disease, and disorders, like spinal cord injury, create a significant health care burden due the costs of treatment and the fact that many of these disorders associated with the nervous system have no long-term cures. The process of neural tissue engineering offers the potential to generate such cures. The central nervous system is a complex structure composed of a variety of cell types that function in coordination to enable the body to send and receive information. Thus, it requires an interdisciplinary approach to understand how to engineer such tissues.

Neuroscientists, biomaterials scientists, chemists, biologists, biomedical engineers and surgeons have all contributed to understanding the function of the nervous system and how these different disorders occur. My book is intended to serve as a broad introduction to how the nervous system, stem cells, biomaterials, and drug delivery as these topics relate to engineering neural tissue. It also covers the design principles and strategies for replicating the critical functions of the nervous system.  

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.

Her twitter handle is @DrWillerth and her lab website can be found here.

engineering neural tissue from stem cells

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Biomedicine & Biochemistry

The disciplines of biomedicine and biochemistry impact the lives of millions of people every day. Research in these areas has led to practical applications in cardiology, cancer treatment, respiratory medicine, drug development, and more. Interdisciplinary fields of study, including neuroscience, chemical engineering, nanotechnology, and psychology come together in this research to yield significant new discoveries. Elsevier’s biomedicine and biochemistry content spans a wide range of subject matter in various forms, including journals, books, eBooks, and online information services, enabling students, researchers, and clinicians to advance these fields. Learn more about our Biomedical and Biochemistry books here.