A selection of the UHN researchers involved in Stem Cell Network-funded projects. (L to R, top) Drs. Shinichiro Ogawa, Sara Vasconcelos and Bo Wang; (L to R, bottom) Karun Singh, Milica Radisic, Mamatha Bhat, Gordon Keller and Anastasia Tikhonova. (Graphic: UHN StRIDe Team)

The Stem Cell Network has announced its largest single investment in stem cell research in Canada – a total of $19.5 million across 32 projects.

Of these, seven projects will be led by researchers at UHN, infusing $4.75 million into research that advances innovative regenerative medicine therapies.

The projects, outlined below, explore cutting-edge approaches, including nanoparticle-based therapies, gene therapy, cell-based therapies and three-dimensionally printed organ tissues (i.e., bioprinted tissues). The projects will move us closer to addressing unmet clinical needs for blood cancers, liver disease, heart disease, genetic brain disorders and organ transplantation.

"These investments build on a strong legacy of innovation in stem cell and regenerative medicine research in Canada and at UHN," says Dr. Bradly Wouters, Executive Vice President of Science and Research, UHN.

"The projects demonstrate a high degree of creativity and collaboration. Given the complexity of the health issues being addressed, this willingness to share ideas, expertise and resources will be key to success.

"As Canada's leading research hospital, much of our research is driven by a desire to improve the lives of patients, a goal that these projects place first and foremost."

Congratulations to the following UHN researchers and their teams.

Horizon Award

UHN will lead one of three national Horizon Awards. This funding represents a new multi-year program for the Stem Cell Network, and each award is valued at $3 million – the largest award offered in the past decade. The funds support research, technology development and made-in-Canada intellectual property that will lead to health and economic benefits in the coming decade.

Sara Vasconcelos, Scientist, Toronto General Hospital Research Institute (TGHRI), UHN

"Advancing microvessel-based cardiac regeneration into a large pre-clinical model"

  • Collaborators: Gregory Korbutt (University of Alberta), Michael Laflamme (UHN), Nilesh Ghugre (Sunnybrook Research Institute)

Fueling Biotechnology Partnerships

UHN will lead one of the "Fueling Biotechnology Partnerships," which serve as catalysts for the translation of stem cell research into the market and clinic. The program provides $400,000 to strengthen partnerships between Canadian academics and emerging Canadian regenerative medicine biotech companies.

Shinichiro Ogawa, Affiliate Scientist, McEwen Stem Cell Institute, UHN

"Developing functional 3D bioprinted liver tissues with sustained immune evasion"

  • Biotech Partner: Aspect Biosystems
  • Collaborators and co-investors: Gordon Keller (UHN), Ian McGilvray (UHN), Rafal Witek (Aspect Biosystems), Sam Wadsworth (Aspect Biosystems), Sonya MacParland (UHN)

Early Career Researcher Jump-Start Awards

The Stem Cell Network granted 12 "Early Career Researcher Jump-Start Awards" at $300,000 each. The funds support early-career researchers who are developing research programs focused on regenerative medicine.

Mamatha Bhat, Scientist, TGHRI, UHN

"A Nanoparticle-based Strategy to Therapeutically Restore Regenerative Capacity in Cirrhotic Livers"

  • Co-investors and collaborators: Gang Zheng (UHN), Jeff Wrana (Sinai Health System)

Anastasia Tikhonova, Scientist, Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, UHN

"Targeting the bone marrow microenvironment to promote hematopoietic regeneration"

  • Co-investors and collaborators: Courtney Jones (UHN), Dennis Kim (UHN), Gary Bader (University of Toronto, UHN)

Bo Wang is serving as a co-investigator on an "Early Career Researcher Jump-Start Award" being led by Amy Wong at the Hospital for Sick Children (Project title: "Deciphering cell competition during iPSC differentiation towards lung epithelia.")

Impact Awards

Impact Awards support proof-of-principle research to test novel technologies, approaches and therapies that will push the boundaries of regenerative medicine. Three of these awards, valued up to $250,000 per award, will be led by UHN researchers.

Gordon Keller, Senior Scientist and Director, McEwen Stem Cell Institute, UHN

"Novel human pluripotent stem cell-derived hematopoietic cell therapy"

  • Collaborator: Juan Carlos Zuniga-Pflucker (Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre)

Milica Radisic, Senior Scientist, TGHRI, UHN

"Stem cell-derived resident cardiac macrophages in designer polymers for cardiac repair and regeneration"

  • Collaborators and co-investors: Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic (The Trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York), Gordon Keller (UHN), Michael Laflamme (UHN), Slava Epelman (UHN)

Karun Singh, Senior Scientist, Krembil Research Institute, UHN

"Gene therapy to restore neural connectivity in neurodevelopmental disorders associated with a CNV microdeletion"

  • Collaborator: Sarah Wootton (University of Guelph)

The announcement was made on Thursday, May 12 at an in-person event in Ottawa and streamed on the Stem Cell Network's Twitter account. Parliamentary Secretary Andy Fillmore made the announcement on behalf of the Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, the Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry.

The announcement represents the Stem Cell Network's largest investment in stem cell and regenerative medicine research over the agency's 20-year history.

"Stem cell and regenerative medicine is a made-in-Canada success story that drives innovation and saves the lives of Canadians and countless others around the world," the Minister said of the announcement. "Through the Stem Cell Network, we are proud to invest in our world-class researchers and scientists and support their groundbreaking work to tackle some of the most serious illnesses we face today.

"When we invest in science, we invest in better, healthier lives for everyone."

To see all the funded projects and for additional information, visit the Stem Cell Network's competition results page and press release.

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