Two multidisciplinary teams led by U of T Engineering researchers will train a new generation of experts to address challenges in health care, from organ rejuvenation to more equitable access to treatment for heart failure.
Professor Michael Sefton (BME, ChemE) is leading Cell and Engineering Approaches to Preserve and Rejuvenate Organs (CEAPRO), one of two projects that have been awarded a total of more than $3 million in Collaborative Research and Training Experience (CREATE) grants from the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada.
He says that regenerative medicine has the potential to transform health care as we know it by treating incurable diseases, but that to enable this future, researchers and clinicians will need to address key issues.
“There is a great need to provide students and trainees with a stronger knowledge of transplant problems,” says Sefton, who is also the scientific director of Medicine by Design, a research hub at the University of Toronto that aims to advance regenerative medicine discoveries.
Some of the challenges facing Sefton and his team include understanding cell states that are required for tissue-specific regeneration, as well as developing and enhancing these processes at the organ level.
CEAPRO will build on the expertise of Medicine by Design and the University Health Network’s Ajmera Transplant Centre, which is Canada’s largest transplant program, to train a skilled workforce that can bring living therapy technologies from laboratories into clinical practice. Trainees will receive interdisciplinary technical training, mobility opportunities and mentorships, and professional skills training across three pillars:
- Fundamental biology and target discovery
- Organ rejuvenation technologies
- Pre-translation and commercialization
“The ultimate goal of the program is to build better organs,” says Sefton. “We want to train scientists to not only engineer new organs, but to understand the behaviour of the organs once implanted in bodies, including immunology issues.”
Among CEAPRO’s multi-disciplinary team of 11 professors and 21 collaborators from industry, academia, government and the community is Professor Sonya MacParland (Medicine & Pathology), a scientist and immunologist at the Ajmera Transplant Centre, who is especially critical to the project.
Her research expertise includes using single cell RNA sequencing to explore the microenvironment of healthy and diseased human livers.
“Working with RNA sequencing will help us understand the fundamentals of the immune response that happens when a lab-grown organ is implanted in a human body,” Sefton says. “Our goal is to be able to tune the immune response to do what we want to circumvent transplant issues.”