close-up hands holding petri dish

Stem cell technology offers the promise of recreating, treating, and replacing diseased organs in the human body. With our research, we plan to use regenerative medicine to tackle critical diseases such as diabetes, heart failure, and liver failure.

  • Diabetes
    Insulin is an important hormone that regulates blood sugar levels in the human body. It is produced and stored in beta cells, located in the pancreas. These beta cells are destroyed in patients with type 1 diabetes, which ultimately leads to insulin dependence as well as major complications that are difficult to manage. We will create beta cells from stem cells, which holds great promise for cell replacement therapy in patients with diabetes.
  • Heart Failure
    Heart failure is growing in epidemic proportions, with about 50,000 new cases diagnosed in Canada each year. Because of the limited number of organs available for heart transplant, we are looking for alternative ways of treating this disease, such as heart regeneration.
    Our goal is two-fold. Firstly, we aim to create models of heart failure and identify new medications. In a perfect scenario, we will be able to deliver a drug at the time of a heart attack that will coax the heart to regenerate. Secondly, we are looking for new strategies to treat the heart after heart attack by using stem cells to replace damaged heart cells.
  • Liver Failure
    Liver failure is a growing epidemic in Canada, with diseases such as fatty liver disease and liver cancer on the rise. There are no specific therapies for many liver diseases, which may lead to liver transplantation. We aim to use stem cells to recreate the cells that make up the liver. In so doing we will develop new treatments for liver disease, and ultimately find a way to recreate the liver outside the body to use for transplantation.

To generate beta cells that can store and release insulin, we will grow stem cells in vitro using specific culture conditions. We artificially create a favourable environment for the cells to develop along the pancreatic lineage and in the end transform into the beta-like cells. In essence, we take the cells from a pluripotent state (where they can become any type of cell) to a unipotent, committed cell type, ideally a beta cell. To evaluate the efficiency of our process, we use flow cytometry, fluorescence imaging and gene expression analysis to phenotypically (by means of physical and biochemical characteristics) and molecularly characterize our final product. Additionally, we perform functional analysis both in vitro and in vivo.

Heart Failure
We use “genetic knockout” in experimental models, where we manipulate and change the expressed genes. We have applied this technique quite successfully and understood that by removing specific molecules, we can affect the heart in a certain way. We can induce the heart to regenerate itself by using these exact techniques.
We use ultrasound (echocardiography) as a way to mark our progress and observe the overall physiological change in the heart. We also apply molecular biology to better understand each of the individual changes and how they are affected by our manipulations.

Liver Disease
We use our unique access to human liver tissue to carefully describe what a human liver actually “is”. Once described, we use technologies similar to those described above to drive multi-potential stem cells towards mature liver cells. We are developing ways of combining these cells to create artificial, outside-the-body liver units. We are also testing whether the cells, alone or in combination, can themselves be used to treat liver disease. In all of these studies, cutting-edge technologies, such as single cell RNA sequencing, are being employed.