Dr. Worton, current CEO and Scientific Director of the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute (OHRI), trained in laboratories in Toronto where stem cells were first discovered, and in 1986 he led the team that discovered the gene responsible for Duchenne Muscular Distrophy. He said “I knew from my research that stem cells had the best hope for replacing and regenerating tissues lost due to genetic muscle disorders, and it quickly became clear that stem cells had the potential to treat and even cure many other diseases as well.” This was the idea and vision that lead to the inception of the Sprott Centre for Stem Cell Research.
With unprecedented donations from the Canada Foundation for Innovation, federal and provincial agencies, and the local Ottawa community, the Sprott Centre was opened as a part of the OHRI in 2000. Currently, it houses over 120 researchers and staff and contains state-of-the-art equipment to visualize stem cells and unlock their molecular secrets. The Sprott Centre acts as a hub for a large interdisciplinary group of researchers, including molecular biologists, physicians, and transplant specialists affiliated with the OHRI, the University of Ottawa, and The Ottawa Hospital.
Here are a few examples of the centre’s most recent discoveries:
1. Dr. Duncan Stewart’s discovery of MiR-26a in patients suffering from pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH). PAH is rare and deadly disease that affects young women. With his team, Dr. Stewart discovered a molecule called MiR-26a, a type of microRNA that derives from DNA, but does not code for any of the body’s proteins. After studying hundreds of microRNAs, Dr. Stewart discovered that only this molecule was found in abnormal levels in the blood of both patients and rats with PAH. His discovery has the potential to lead to new methods of diagnosis, monitoring, and possibly treating PAH.
2. Dr. Michael Rudnicki’s group has found a novel approach to enhancing the efficiency of stem cell therapy for skeletal muscle diseases. They have shown that a short treatment of muscle stem cells with a protein called Wnt7a is sufficient to significantly enhance their transplantation in dystrophic muscle, improving both muscle regeneration and function. This discovery provides a unique biotherapeutic approach to improve the outcome of cell therapy for muscle-wasting conditions and diseases.
3. Dr. Rashmi Korthary is currently developing a targeted gene therapy in order to potentially find an effective treatment for patients with spinal muscular atrophy, the most common genetic disease leading to infant death. It is caused by mutations in a single gene, SMN1, which affects neurons and skeletal muscle leading to paralysis. Dr. Kothary and his team have been awarded over $250,000 dollars from the Muscular Dystrophy Association to develop a targeted gene therapy to fix the pathways disrupted by this disease.
All research conducted through the Sprott Centre for Stem Cell Research is organized around three central goals: investigating the fundamental mechanisms regulating the function of stem cells, undertake rigorous preclinical studies find the best approach for therapy, and design and conduct early phase clinical trials to evaluate innovative biotherapeutics. The researchers at the Sprott Centre are making crucial scientific discoveries about the fundamental mechanisms. With annual contributions from CARRM@uOttawa, The Sprott Centre for Stem Cell Research strives to change the interface of healthcare with their discoveries regarding regenerative medicine.