Building and Repairing the Nervous System
During embryonic development, the nervous system is faced with an enormous task - to progress from a thin sheet of cells to a complex circuit network. What results is a veritable motherboard capable of processing sensory information and generating motor outputs. When the nervous system is damaged, through spinal injury or diseases such as Parkinson's, there are frequently no treatments available.
Dr. Freda Miller, Canada Research Chair in Developmental Biology, looks at the factors that effect developing and injured neurons in the hope that her findings may be used to treat debilitating conditions of the nervous system. Her recent work indicates that environmental cues, such as growth factors, influence the creation and survival of neurons. Moreover, a neuron's environment may actually "select" appropriate neurons and connectors, and in so doing, build functional circuitry.
Dr. Miller is also trying to develop an adult stem cell that can be used to treat damaged nervous systems. When the potential of neural stem cells became apparent four years ago, what became equally apparent was the ethical controversy surrounding embryonic and human neural stem cell research. Dr. Miller's laboratory discovered SKin-Derived Precursors (SKPs), a type of stem cell located in accessible adult tissue. Through her research program, Dr. Miller plans to determine whether rodent and human SKPs can be used for treatments in nervous system disorders.