Stephanie Willerth

Canada Research Chair in Biomedical Engineering

Tier 2 - 2017-11-01
University of Victoria
Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council


Research involves

Using stem cells to engineer tissues to replace diseased or damaged regions of the nervous system.

Research relevance

This research will help develop the tools necessary to form functional neural tissue from stem cells.

A Toolkit for Personalized Neural Tissue

Imagine if doctors had easy access to personalized, engineered tissues, to treat the diseased or damaged neural tissue of patients? Such tissues would be produced by combining stem cells derived from patients, with scaffolding that reproduces the environment of healthy tissue. This would eliminate the need to find matching donor organs.

Adult cells, such as those found in skin, could be reprogrammed to become any cell type found in the body, including nerve cells. This process could be used to generate patient-specific stem cell lines.

Dr. Stephanie Willerth, Canada Research Chair in Biomedical Engineering, is exploring how to replicate the signals and structures found in healthy tissue from the nervous system, in order to direct these stem cells to form implantable, engineered tissues.

Willerth’s toolkit for engineering neural tissue includes microparticles that can release chemicals over time, as well as Jell-O-like gels that support three-dimensional cell growth. She is combining these materials with reprogrammed adult cells, to create personalized, engineered tissues to repair the nervous system.

Willerth is member of the International Collaboration on Repair Discoveries, a British Columbia-based organization committed to finding treatments for spinal cord injury. By working with this organization, Willerth will help enable engineered, neural tissues to be used to alleviate the suffering of patients suffering from spinal cord injuries.