Pluripotent stem cells (PSCs) have the ability to expand endlessly, making copies of themselves, as well as to differentiate into all specialized cell types of the body. As a result, PSCs have opened the door to deriving cellular therapies that have unprecedented promise for treating degenerative diseases. Despite this promise, we lack an understanding of how to control their behaviour — whether they divide, die, or differentiate.
My laboratory will use a combination of cutting-edge experimental and computational technologies to study PSC fitness — the ability of these cells to eliminate each other via cell-cell killing. Our research will uncover the genetic basis of their fitness to predict the emergence of abnormally competitive PSCs, those with aberrant genetic mutations, and to use synthetic biology tools to remove these from cell manufacturing batches. We will also engineer PSCs to enhance their fitness, allowing us to grow these cells in the lab with better efficiency and safety. This research will lead to health and economic benefits for Canadians, improving the efficacy of cell therapies and building on our legacy of stem cell research that began with the initial discovery of stem cells in 1961 by Drs. Till and McCulloch.