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UHN Scientist dedicated to converting the promise of regenerative medicine into reality

Air Date: October 19, 2022 | Length: 43:23 | Download the transcript



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Dr. Gordon Keller

Episode Description

In this episode of Behind the Breakthrough, Dr. Gordon Keller talks about his staggering legacy of advancing the field of regenerative medicine, including his lab's world-first discovery of the hemangioblast. The hemangioblast is the precursor cell that goes on to form blood vessels and other blood cells in the body. That 1997 discovery led to the next step in his research – successfully 'differentiating' or coaxing precursor cells into becoming a specific cell type that could potentially replace or regrow damaged parts of the body. This seminal work laid the foundation for the research he oversees today at UHN's McEwen Stem Cell Institute harnessing stem cells to repair damaged organs such as the heart, liver and pancreas. In this wide-ranging interview, Dr. Keller also speaks to why Toronto has become a research bedrock in North America for stem cell research, and, his role as Scientific Co-Founder of Blue Rock Therapeutics, an engineered-cell therapy company dedicated to developing regenerative medicines for cardiovascular, autoimmune and neurological diseases. As well, Dr. Keller recounts his early years growing up on a mixed farm in rural Saskatchewan, and how returning to help his parents with the fall harvest throughout his undergrad years helped shape his work ethic in the lab.

About Dr. Gordon Keller

Dr. Keller's research program is focused on understanding the pathways that regulate the differentiation of a specialized type of stem cell, known as a human pluripotent stem cell (hPSC). HPSCs have the potential to generate most, if not all, of the cell types in the human body. The lab is interested in understanding how these cells make blood cells and heart cells in the Petri dish. Over the past five years, Dr. Keller's lab has identified the key regulators that control these processes and are now able to make most of the cell types of the human heart and blood cell system from hPSCs. With these advances, work is focused on establishing new therapeutic approaches to treat both heart and blood-cell diseases. The heart disease efforts are in collaboration with the biotechnology company BlueRock Therapeutics and are aimed at using heart cells made from hPSCs to remuscularize and repair heart tissue damage following a heart attack. Within the blood cell system, the lab is working to produce different types of immune cells from hPSCs that can be used to fight cancer, eradicate infections or modulate autoimmune responses in patients.