The feature session of the fifth Till & McCulloch Meetings shone a light on two fantastic researchers, Huijuan Yang and Molly Shoichet, both of whom received awards for their outstanding work.
Huijuan Yang, a PhD student in the Nagy lab at the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute at Mount Sinai hospital in Toronto, received the inaugural Drew Lyall Award of Excellence, provided by the Stem Cell Network, and awarded to the author of the top abstract submitted to the abstract competition. Her talk explained the importance of the thymus in the development of T-cells and described the process of creating mice models with personalized and humanized immune systems.
Next, Dr. Molly Shoichet was awarded the 2016 Till & McCulloch Award for her paper, titled “A Hyaluronan-based Injectable Hydrogel Improves the Survival and Integration of Stem Cell Progeny following Transplantation.” Her lecture focused primarily on a hydrogel (HAMC, pronounced “hammock”) developed in her lab, which combines hyaluronan (HA) and methylcellulose (MC). The material properties of these individual components make it so the combination is shear-thinning (which means when shear forces are applied, it turns into a liquid, which makes it injectable) but gels at low temperatures (so that the materials become solid immediately upon injection). This combination makes HAMC an ideal vehicle for cell delivery, since injection is a much less invasive method than surgical alternatives.
More importantly, Dr. Shoichet’s team has shown that HAMC increases cell survival when used to deliver progenitors in both stroke and blindness mouse models, and has demonstrated that this is mediated by hyaluronan. They have also observed an improvement on cell distribution when delivered in their gel as opposed to in suspension. Though functional assays (the foot fault assay in the stroke model and pupillary constriction in response to light in the blindness model) both show improvement. Dr. Shoichet highlighted that the mechanism through which this occurs is unknown in both cases, and expressed excitement at the avenues of exploration that these results open to her team and collaborators, including future research aimed at improving the gel by incorporating additional pro-survival signals.
Huijuan Yang and Molly Shoichet join a distinguished panel of scientists that have received awards for their work at the Till & McCulloch meetings, and it was a privilege to listen to their research. I look forward to hearing more from both in the future.
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