Interview with Dr Stephanie M. Willerth

Posted Mon, Aug, 17,2015

This author interview is by Dr Stephanie M. Willerth, of University of Victoria.  Dr Willerth's full paper, Optimizing Differentiation Protocols for Producing Dopaminergic Neurons from Human Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells for Tissue Engineering Applications, in Biomarker Insights.

First please summarise for readers the content of your article

Our work compared two different methods for generating dopaminergic neurons, the cells responsible for coordination of movement, from induced pluripotent stem cells. One of these methods used an aggregate formation step while the other did not. We produced neural progenitors using both methods and then treated these cells with the same molecule guggulsterone, which had been shown to efficiently differentiate human embryonic stem cells into dopaminergic neurons. We were able to produce dopamine secreting neurons using an aggregate formation step followed by guggulsterone treatment.

How did you come to be involved in your area of study?
I have always been interested in working with pluripotent stem cells due to their ability to become any cell type in the body. They could be potentially be used to treat a range of diseases and disorders.  The key is figured out what cues to deliver to induce the desired differentiation.

What was previously known about the topic of your article?
Another group had shown that guggulsterone treatment produced a high number of dopaminergic neurons from human embryonic stem cells. The Ashton group (Wisconsin) also recently published the protocol for producing neural progenitors without the use of an aggregate formation step.

How has your work in this area advanced understanding of the topic?
We have extended these protocols to show that they can be adapted for use with human induced pluripotent stem cells. 

What do you regard as being the most important aspect of the results reported in the article?
Exploring more rapid protocols for neuronal differentiation is an important step in terms of translating such therapies for use in clinical settings where time constraints are an issue. 

Dr Willerth's lab webpage is


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