Samantha is a PhD Candidate studying neural stem cell biology in Dr. Derek van der Kooy’s lab at the University of Toronto. Her research focuses on neural stem cell hierarchies in the developing mammalian brain, and activation of quiescent stem cells in the adult brain. She is also an avid science communicator on social media and can be found @SamanthaZY on Twitter and @Science.Sam on Instagram sharing the science we all love in new ways everyday.
If you’re seeking a resource to help you transition into tissue engineering and regenerative medicine, look no further. Engineering Neural Tissue from Stem Cells fulfills a need for an informative, but accessible, introduction to these exciting fields. It is far more detailed than a typical textbook, but slightly less specific than a review paper.
This new textbook, released in July 2017, provides an excellent overview of past, present, and future research in regeneration of the nervous system through the interdisciplinary lens of tissue engineering. Authored by Dr. Stephanie Willerth, University of Victoria Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair in Biomedical Engineering, it contains eight thorough yet accessible chapters. Dr. Willerth’s diverse academic background makes her an ideal author for this textbook: she completed her undergraduate degree in biology and chemical engineering at MIT, her Master’s and PhD in Biomedical engineering at Washington University, and postdoc at Berkeley.
Who’s this textbook for?
I can imagine this textbook is the book she wishes she had when she was first starting in biomedical engineering, or perhaps this is the information she expects all of her graduate students to know before they start in the lab. You can tell it’s written by a passionate researcher because she references the primary scientists behind many of the discoveries mentioned, which is important for readers who wish to further their understanding of topics. There are also many helpful diagrams that go beyond the traditional cartoon animations seen in most introductory textbooks; the author includes figures from primary papers and explains them with sufficient context to be accessible to researchers and undergraduate students across disciplines.
I recommend this textbook for someone beginning research in tissue engineering and/or neural stem cells, as well as those looking for an overview on the translation of stem cell biology and regenerative medicine, including science writers and medical practitioners. While the tissue engineering concepts are always framed with their applications to stem cells – and to neural regeneration in particular – the concepts are generalizable enough to be helpful to those interested in other tissues beyond the nervous system.
A few things that sets this textbook apart are that Dr. Willerth does an excellent job of giving real world applications to concepts being described, and referencing news and events readers may recognize, such as the work Michael J Fox has done to raise awareness and funds for Parkinson’s disease. She references 971 peer-reviewed articles and ties in relevant organizations supportive of the research being described, both within the text and in the “Additional Resources” section following each chapter (many are based out of Canada and the U.S.).
The textbook begins by justifying why this field is important from health care, policy, scientific and economic standpoints, which is a fantastic motivator for readers just beginning a relatively long textbook (226 pages). After a brief, but sufficient, introduction to the nervous system, including some quick anatomy and cell biology lessons contrasting differences between the peripheral and central nervous systems, she provides a helpful overview of the history of stem cell biology research that begins in Toronto, Canada with Drs. James Till and Ernest McCulloch.
With mentions of current and past clinical trials related to regenerative medicine sprinkled throughout the chapters, the latter half of the textbook focuses more on the bioengineering. The author gives an overview of design considerations for regenerating neural tissue, such as the complex extracellular matrix that governs stem cell behaviour, and moves into natural and synthetic biomaterials that can influence those behaviours. As well, she mentions limitations to current biomaterials – such as source and reproducibility – and discusses the need for combinations of materials and new innovations.
She next launches into strategies for controlled and targeted drug delivery, highlighting exciting new technologies like optically and chemically controlled systems. In the eighth and final chapter, the author describes the possibilities that the latest advances – such as neural organoids, 3D bioprinting, genome editing, and more – offer to the field.
Verdict: yet another great thing related to stem cells to come out of Canada
The interdisciplinary approach to these subjects means that there is likely something in here for everyone, though future editions of this book should consider adding in ethical and legal implications of the research. It is increasingly important to educate researchers on these topics so they can adequately address concerns raised by the public who may have questions and concerns about their research.
Nevertheless, Dr. Willerth does a fantastic job writing this comprehensive introductory resource. Canada has a long legacy of outstanding stem cell research and is home to some of the world’s best and most innovative bioengineers from coast to coast. This textbook is great at providing a foundation of appreciation for the successes so far, and challenges ahead, for future leaders in these fields.
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