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Scientists derive stem cells from adult, fetal and embryonic tissue. (Vasiliy Koval)
Scientists derive stem cells from adult, fetal and embryonic tissue. (Vasiliy Koval)

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Q&A: The future of stem cell research Add to ...

Already in clinical use through therapies such as bone-marrow transplants and cartilage repair, regenerative medicine has only started to realize its potential. Although scientists may eventually use stem cells and biomaterials to cure everything from heart disease to neurodegenerative illnesses, developing and commercializing these technologies will take time.

“What we all hope is that there will be new curative treatments for debilitating diseases,” says Peter Zandstra, a professor at the University of Toronto’s Institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering and a Canada Research Chair in Stem Cell Bioengineering. “It’s not clear right now if our approaches will be successful, but I think there’s a lot of hope and promise.”

Among other regenerative medicine projects, U of T’s Dr. Zandstra is utilizing new technologies, such as tissue engineering. “We generate cells such as cardiac cells [and]we’re interested in formulating these cells into micro-tissues that mimic adult heart tissue,” he says. “Then we can use those for drug screening.”

Dr. Zandstra, who works closely with Toronto’s McEwen Centre for Regenerative Medicine, stresses the importance of collaboration with fellow researchers here and abroad. He also wants to see innovative technology reach the marketplace. In addition to his research duties, Dr. Zandstra is chief scientific officer of the new Centre for the Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine (CCRM).

The Toronto-based centre takes early-stage technologies from Ontario institutions and adds value to help commercialize them, he explains. “One of the problems that we face in regenerative medicine – and there are many – is that numerous technologies that come out are too early for real commercialization, and we need this extra step of turning them into products.”

So what's the future for stem cell medicine, and how long will it take these new therapies to move from the lab to the market? Dr. Zandstra joined us for a live discussion.

11:48

Niamh O'Doherty - Hi everyone, my name is Niamh O'Doherty and I'll be moderating this live chat on the future of stem cell research. Please feel free to send in your questions now.

12:00

[Comment From pzandstra ]

Hi - Peter Zandstra here ...

12:00

Niamh O'Doherty - Hi Peter. Readers, allow me to welcome Peter Zandstra, a professor at the University of Toronto’s Institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering and a Canada Research Chair in Stem Cell Bioengineering.

12:01

Niamh O'Doherty - Peter, perhaps you could explain to us a little bit about your work in regenerative medicine.

12:02

[Comment From Guest]

Sure - thanks for your intrest Niamh. My lab works of the development of technologies that can help control stem cell fate. We hope that by having bete technologies we will help accelerate the progress of stem cell towards the clinic.

12:03

[Comment From Peter Zandstra]

Sorry - that last comment was from me.

12:03

Niamh O'Doherty - Thanks Peter. Now, on to our readers' questions...

12:03

[Comment From Elizabeth ]

You hear a lot of stories in the news about how stem cells can treat different diseases. Can you get any of these treatments in Canada?

12:04

[Comment From Peter Zandstra]

Right now the only stem cell therapies availible in canada are bone marrow transplantations.

12:05

[Comment From Peter Zandstra]

Importantly, many new therapis moving towards clinical trials. In canada there are more than 40 of these at the moment.

12:07

Niamh O'Doherty - Peter, could you tell us a little more about these clinical trials? What kind of therapies are we talking about?

12:09

[Comment From Peter Zandstra]

Most of the therapies currently being contemplated are using adult stem cells. Examles are the use of mesenchymal cells to regenrate bone and other connective tissue, or to transplant these cells and use them as "factories" for the prodcution of proeins that may change healing rates or outcomes

12:09

[Comment From Carol ]

How many researchers are there in Canada working on stem cell therapies...and how are we positioned compared to other countries?

12:11

[Comment From Peter Zandstra]

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