One in 1,000 newborns is born with spinal anomalies caused by defects in body segmentation—the term for what happens when one or more vertebrae are abnormally connected on one side. However, the cause of this congenital disorder remains poorly understood. As Canada Research Chair in Cellular Reprogramming, Dr. Li-Fang Chu is working to shed light on the factors that lead to the malformation of the spine in newborns.
Chu’s research aims to use pluripotent stem cells to model human development and disease. (Pluripotent stem cells are considered “master” cells because they can give rise to any cell or tissue in the body.) He and his research team are trying to better understand the cause of congenital spinal deformity and identify new therapies to treat it. Ultimately, their research will provide insight into how genetic and environmental factors interact to cause congenital vertebral malformations.