The reknowned researcher’s gave her first conference in Chile, titled “Neural stem cells: from development to repair” to a full house, with Drs. Nibaldo Inestrosa, Alfonso González, Enrique Brandan, María Paz Marzolo, Rafael Vicuña, Alejandra C1lvarez, Francisca Bronfman y Juan Larraín seating on the first row.
Dr. Miller has dedicated years of study in finding out what is the role of stem cells in adults, specifically in tissue biology. The recently discovered capacity of mature organisms to remodel and repair theirnervous systems forms the basis of her research. “My lab is interested in understanding how growth factors regulate the formation of different types of neurons from embryonic stem cells, and how these factorsdetermine survival, growth, and eventually neural connectivity.” She explained.
The defining characteristic of stem cells, also known as multipotent cells is that unlike most other cells found on adult organisms, theyremain undifferentiated. Thus, they can turn into any other type of cell, and thus repair damage.
In higher animals, these cells are classified into two groups: embryonic stem cells, which are able to differentiate into all other cellular types, and organ-specific stem cells, which have a more limited repertoire and are the ones known as multipotent.
The best example of this second group of stem cells are bone marrow cells, which are capable of differentiating into all blood cell types, as well as cells belonging to the inmune system. However, these cells can be found in other organs in the human body, such as skin, subcutanous fat, cardiac muscle, the brain, the retina, and the pancreas.
One of Dr. Miller’s main discoveries are the identification of SKPs, a group of adult stem cells that can be found in the dermis (skin) of both rodents and humans during development, and persist until maturity. According to Dr. Miller’s team, what makes this group of cells interesting is that they appear to have the potential to regenerate nerve cells, and thus could be used to study pathologies related with the failure of specific zones in the central nervous system.
“We hope that the study of the development of the nervous system can be used to understand, and potentially repair, damage done by diseases or injury”, stated Dr. Miller.
An outstanding career
Dr. Miller is the head researcher of the Department of Developmental Biology at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. She received her PhD in 1984 at the University of Calgary and did her postoctoral studies in pharmacology at The Scripps Research Institute. She won the 2000 CIHR Senior Investigator award, and in 2002 received the Barbara Turnbull Award. In 2004 she was elected president of the International Society for Developmental Neuroscience and became member of the Society for Neuroscience. In 2005 she received a Canada Research Chair and was elected as member of the Royal Society of Canada.
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