appear to play a key role in replenishing The road a researcher takes can sometimes lead to destinations they never originally considered. The scientists who studied Viagra, for exam- ple, thought they had a treatment for hypertension and angina - only to Freda Miller:
Dr. Freda Miller, the Canadian scientist who discovered adult stem cells Senior Scientist in the Developmental and Stem Cell Biology Program, The Hospital for Sick Children Research Institute Canada Research Chair in Developmental Neurobiology, While investigating how skin stem cells - now called skin-derived dermal precursors (SKPs) - can be used to repair damaged spinal cords, she found they may be just as valuable in healing wounds, repairing damaged The Challenge:
Across North America, about 300,000 people live with spinal “These cells come from the second layer of the skin - the dermis,” says The Approach:
Dr. Miller, Senior Scientist at the SickKids Research Institute of The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto.
Skin-derived dermal precursors (SKPs) promote anatomical and functional recovery in the spinal cords of injured mice.
“The skin has a high turnover rate - it’s always getting injured and renewed SKPs also appear to promote skin repair and regeneration, - so the cells contribute to the maintenance of the dermis. They partic- ipate in wound healing. And they regulate the genesis of hair follicles The Milestones:
Preclinical studies have shown promising results for spinal cord While interest in using SKPs to heal spinal cord injury remains a top repair, bone repair and skin repair.
priority - and preclinical results have been promising - it is the com- Know More:
mercial potential of developing a product that could revitalize wrinkled skin and repopulate barren scalps that has sparked new interest in Arlene Yee, SickKids Technology Transfer Office Dr. Miller’s work from drug companies and cosmetics firms.
“It’s a whole other area that’s taken off, in terms of commercial interest,” While her early research was focused on using these progenitor cells to grow tissue to promote healing, Dr. Miller is now more focused on developing small molecules and compounds that could be applied to the SKPs to encourage them to get to work.
“If we can identify the small molecules that trigger what makes the SKPs survive and divide, then we wouldn’t even have to transplant cells. All we would have to do is put the compound on the skin so it can pump up the SKPs that are there already and get them to promote healing. Ultimately, Dr. Miller’s research in spinal cord repair has progressed to transplanting human SKPs into larger animal models. “Our dream is to treat chronic spinal cord injury. That’s moving along pretty aggressively.” Her investigations into bone repair are also progressing well. Animal model studies have shown SKPs promote growth.
And while she didn’t set out to find ways to make hair grow and skin re- both. We’re looking at the
plenish itself, the cosmetic applications of that knowledge could ulti- mately lead to more work being done to find a cure for spinal cord injury.
same stem cell. We’re just
trying to figure out ways
“If you had a company that held all of the intellectual property for all of these things, then any money made on the skin applications could be put to get it to help us.”
into other things where there is less investment money around - such as Dr. Miller’s intellectual property is well protected through McGill Univer- sity, where she did research before moving to Toronto, and through Sick- Kids Hospital. She has filed several patents on strategies for screening small molecules to support SKP proliferation and cell growth.
As for the cosmetic commercial opportunities, she’ll wait and see what happens. “It’s not the kind of thing I think about very much, but the Spinal Cord Injury:
Bone Repair:
Skin Repair:


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