Molly Shoichet spends her days imagining a world where victims of spinal cord injuries can walk again. A world where faulty organs can be replaced by those grown in laboratories.
A biomedical scientist at the University of Toronto and the holder of the Canada Research Chair in Tissue Engineering, Shoichet combines chemistry, biology and engineering in her lab to create polymers that aid spinal cord Regeneration.
She is one of Canada’s shining stars in the field of regenerative medicine, which aims to create sources of tissue and organs to replace those that cannot heal in the body on their own.
Tomorrow at 10 a.m. Shoichet gives a public lecture at Erindale United Church in Mississauga (admission costs $15 including lunch) on “The Promise of Regenerative Medicine: Fantasy or Reality?” Its part of the ongoing Canadian Perspectives lecture series.
Before her presentation, Shoichet explained some of the details of her work:
Q: How close are we to large-scale tissue regeneration? For example, will someone aged 40 confined to a wheelchair be able to walk in their lifetime?
A: The brain and spinal cord are the most complex organs that we’re trying to regenerate. I don’t know whether the person who’s 40 in a wheelchair will be able to walk again, but the hope is that we’ll be able to improve both their overall quality of life and the functioning of their spinal cord in their lifetime. It depends on what type of injury they have. Some of our initial goals are to give people back bladder control and to fix sexual dysfunction. Walking is obviously the ultimate goal, and something we strive for, but I think we have to think in terms of baby steps … versus going for the home run.
Q: A lot of your research involves the use of stem cells. What part does ethics play in your work?
A: We use stem cells because of all the promises associated with them and what they can achieve. We work mainly with adult stem cells, so some of the ethical issues associated with embryonic stem cells are less pressing perhaps. I think in any application of medicine there are ethical issues that are extremely important and complex … As our research matures and we get closer to the clinical aspects, then the ethical issues will play a bigger role.
Q: What inspired you to enter the field of regenerative medicine?
A: Two things. One was the desire to advance science toward medical applications. I was very excited about taking advantage of what we could do in the lab and making it work for humanity by finding solutions for today’s problems. The other reason I entered this field was because I thought I could play a role. I found a need. As I learned more, I realized there was an opportunity for somebody with my background, which is designing materials … What if we could design a material to do something we wanted it to do in the body, instead of taking something off the shelf and seeing if it would work?
Q: You have involved your two young boys in Rick Hansen’s Wheels In Motion wheelchair races every year. What do you hope they learn?
A: It gives them the opportunity to learn about spinal cord injury. One of the life lessons I provide my children with is to get involved with your community, learn about it and give back to it. We’re all going to have some sort of neurological disorder or disease as we age. For my kids, it’s just getting a greater understanding of what different people face.
By: Torstar Network