Funding fuels hunt for deeper answers

Western researcher Lauren Flynn is offering hope to those struggling to heal some of life’s deepest scars by putting stems cells found in human fat to work in new ways. And now, thanks to funding provided by the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), her work will take the next step.



Flynn, who holds a joint appointment in Engineering and the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, is one of three Western researchers splitting more than $525,000 in funding from CFI, according to an announcement made today in Ottawa. She received $199,826 for her project, Laboratory for Cell-based Regenerative Strategies with Adipose-derived Stem Cells.

“I moved here from Queen’s last January. This funding is critical for getting my lab here up and going,” she said, noting her lab, by nature of her joint appointment in Chemical Engineering and Anatomy & Cell Biology, is multidisciplinary and collaborative.

“Coming to Western was a great move for me in terms of having a collaborative network to work with. That’s really exiting. And I’m looking forward to building more ties between Engineering and medicine.”

Today, Ed Holder, Minister of State (Science and Technology), announced more than $35 million in research infrastructure funding for universities across the country where scientists are pushing the boundaries of knowledge in areas as diverse as breast cancer prevention, Arctic science and intelligent drone technology.

The investment was made through CFI’s John R. Evans Leaders Fund, a fund designed to help universities attract and retain the best and brightest researchers from around the world by equipping them with cutting-edge research infrastructure.

The announcement was made at the University of Saskatchewan.

“Canada has become a destination of choice for highly talented scientific researchers thanks in part to our support for world class university and college infrastructure which helps train the next generation of Canadian research talent,” Holder said.



In addition to Flynn, Engineering professor Abouzar Sadrekarimi received $125,220 for his project, Bidirectional Cyclic Simple Shear Testing of Soils; Earth Sciences professor Audrey Bouvier received $199,997 for her project, Isotopic and Geochemical Investigations of Planetary Materials.

Flynn’s work focuses on developing new cell-based therapies using adult stem cells found in human fat. Her lab has pioneered fat as a source of ‘scaffolding’ to deliver stem cells.

Like the structures that surround an under-construction building, bio-engineers define scaffolds as an artificial structure implanted in the body, upon which tissue grows in the form of a missing or damaged organ.

“This scaffolding material we’ve found provides an environment that allows the stem cells we are delivering to secrete factors that promote regeneration of healthy host tissues,” Flynn continued. “I think the combination of the cells and scaffolds is one thing that is really unique in our group.



“These stem cells (that derive from human fat) are very similar to the type of stem cell found in bone marrow. But obviously, human fat has advantages in terms of its general abundance and how accessible it is. Most people have some fat they would be quite happy to give you for these purposes,” she laughed.

The scaffolds her lab has developed work together to try and stimulate tissue regeneration.

Among the applications for Flynn’s work is to increase tissue production for plastic reconstructive surgery, including breast reconstruction after a lumpectomy or mastectomy, reconstruction of congenital birth defects or reconstruction of tissue following traumatic injury.

“Another area we’re interested in is wound healing for the treatment of things like diabetic ulcers and bedsores. There are people who develop these chronic wounds that never heal and they end up having to have amputations in some cases because they can’t heal,” Flynn added.

“Linked with wound healing is developing strategies to stimulate new blood vessel formation, so for patients who have peripheral vascular disease, we can hopefully use cells as a way to stimulate new blood vessel development.”

Flynn and her colleagues also collaborate in orthopedics, looking at connective tissue regeneration. She is actively seeking ways to commercialize the patents she has in her scaffold work.