Welcome to the Willerth Laboratory!
We are an interdisciplinary research group that develops novel tools for addressing significant biological problems in tissue engineering and regenerative medicine. In particular, we focus on innovative strategies for engineering neural tissue. We have developed several tools for engineering such tissues, including bioactive scaffolds that deliver novel mechanical and chemical cues and functionalized transcription factors. Our group works with human pluripotent stem cells to engineer functional neural tissue. Both embryonic stem cells and induced pluripotent stem cells possess the property of pluripotency, meaning they can form any cell type found in the body. This special property makes them attractive targets for regenerative medicine, including tissue engineering applications.
Producing functional neural tissue from pluripotent stem cells in a consistent and high throughput manner remains challenging. Our group determines how to reproducibly engineer neural tissue from these pluripotent stem cell lines through strict regulation of the conditions during the culture of undifferentiated cells and the neural differentiation process. We develop bioactive scaffolds for directing stem cell differentiation using both physical and chemical cues. My research group has developed many types of biomaterial scaffolds, including fibrin hydrogels, multifunctional nanofibers, functionalized microfibers, and microspheres that provide controlled release of proteins and small molecules, for promoting the differentiation of pluripotent stem cells into neural phenotypes. One current area of interest is developing novel bioinks for 3D printing personalized neural tissues. Additionally, we have investigated the mechanisms behind how these scaffolds promote differentiation by using next generation DNA sequencing to analyze the differences in transcription patterns expressed during the differentiation process. The end goal of our research is to engineer tissues suitable for transplantation in the human nervous system for treatment of diseases like Parkinson's or to repair damaged tissue found in the spinal cord to promote recovery of lost function. One of our new areas of research involves directly reprogramming somatic cells, such as skin cells, into neurons using modified transcription factors. More details on this work can be found at the Research and Publications links.
Dr. Willerth's book:
“Neural Tissue Engineering using Stem Cells”