Chemical and Biochemical EngineeringWestern Engineering

Research Interests

Tissue Engineering with Adipose-derived Stem Cells & Naturally-derived Bioscaffolds

Research in the Flynn lab is focused on the application of adipose-derived stem cells (ASCs) in new cell-based therapeutic strategies for soft tissue augmentation and wound healing, therapeutic angiogenesis, and musculoskeletal regeneration. As a regenerative cell source, fat is abundant, easily accessible, and uniquely expendable. In culture, ASCs proliferate rapidly and can be stimulated to differentiate into mature bone, cartilage, adipose, and muscle cells, amongst other lineages. In terms of regeneration, ASCs can synthesize extracellular matrix (ECM) components, and can remodel tissue-engineered constructs to facilitate new tissue development. ASCs also indirectly modulate regeneration by secreting an array of paracrine factors that promote angiogenesis, limit apoptosis, enhance endogenous stem cell recruitment, and mediate the inflammatory response. While there is great promise, many questions remain in terms of how to safely and effectively apply ASCs in tissue-specific cell-based therapies before these methods can be advantageously translated to the clinical setting. A better understanding of the cell response within 3-D microenvironments is needed in order to achieve predictable regeneration and long-term functional recovery. To address these key challenges, the three central themes of ongoing research in the Flynn lab are:

(1) The design of dynamic culture systems for human ASC expansion

A bioreactor system that enables the large-scale expansion of the ASC population from small tissue biopsies, while maintaining the stem cell phenotype, would represent a significant advance towards the translation of ASCs for a broad range of clinical therapies. We are designing 3-D culture strategies for expanding human ASCs under serum-free conditions. Bioreactor systems can allow for better control over the culture conditions than static culturing and the shear forces applied under dynamic culture can influence cell shape, which has the potential to mediate stem cell proliferation and differentiation.

(2) Decellularized bioscaffolds for soft tissue regeneration and wound healing

The extracellular microenvironment plays a critical role in mediating stem cell lineage commitment and differentiation. There is evidence to support that this regulation occurs through both biochemical and biomechanical signalling. The complexity of these cell-ECM interactions points to the need for tissue-specific strategies to re-engineering stem cell niches. Recent studies have highlighted the potential for bioscaffolds derived from the ECM of tissues to naturally direct stem cell proliferation and differentiation. Building on our expertise in decellularization technologies, our group is engineering a range of ECM-derived biomaterials, including 3-D scaffolds, foams, films, microcarriers, and gels. Further, we are investigating ASCs within these bioscaffolds to probe the role of cell-ECM interactions in mediating ASC viability, proliferation and lineage-specific differentiation in the development of tissue-specific regenerative therapies.

(3) The development of tissue-specific injectable ASC delivery strategies

Injected ASCs have been shown to home to sites of injury and ischemic tissues. Depending on the context, a fraction of the ASCs may contribute to regeneration through direct engraftment and differentiation. However, recent studies suggest that transplanted ASCs may primarily function to promote healing by establishing a more regenerative milieu within the host through the secretion of paracrine factors that modulate the rate and extent of healing. Although ASCs have shown great potential for a broad range of applications in cell therapy, scientific hurdles remain in terms of how to best deliver the cells and how to sustain the localized regenerative effects to enable complete healing with functional recovery. Working in close collaboration with Dr. Brian Amsden at Queen's University, our research team is designing new injectable ASC delivery strategies for applications in therapeutic angiogenesis and musculoskeletal regeneration.

My Research Group

Flynn Group December 2013

The Western Crew (2014 - present):

Research Assistants

  • Cody Brown, Research Assistant
    Project Focus:
    Cody Brown Isolation and characterization of bioactive components present in decellularized adipose tissue. Development of an injectable gel derived from decellularized adipose tissue.

Ph.D. Candidates

  • Marjorie Curet
  • Arthi Shridhar
  • JT Walker
  • Pascal Morissette Martin
  • Tim Han

Master's Candidates

  • Danielle Heinbuch
  • Joban Dhillon
Flynn Group Summer 2014

The Queens Crew (2007 - 2014):

Ph.D. Candidates

  • Claire Yu, 2010 - present
    Project Focus:
    Cody Brown Enhancing in vitro cultivation of adipose-derived stem cells on decellularized adipose tissue-based porous microcarriers.

  • Stuart Young, 2011 - present
    Project Focus:
    Cody Brown Development of an in situ crosslinking hydrogel scaffold from natural and synthetic polymers for the delivery of adipose-derived stem cells to treat local tissue ischemia via stimulated angiogenesis.

M.A.Sc. Candidates

  • Andrew Carroll, 2012 - present
    Project Focus:
    Andrew Carroll Investigation of the chemotactic effect of ASCs on articular cartilage chondrocytes in 2D and 3D culture, and the characterization of ASC chondrogenesis in natural and synthetic polymer scaffolds.

  • Ming Gong, 2013 - present
    Project Focus:
    Investigation of indirect co-culturing of human ASCs and nucleus pulposus cells for intervertebral disc regeneration using peptide-conjugated hydrogels.

Lab Alumni:

  • Valerio Russo, Ph.D. 2015
  • Bryen Turco, M.A.Sc. 2014
  • Ehsan Omidi, M.E.Sc. 2014
  • Lydia Fuetterer, M.A.Sc. 2014
  • Dr. Fraz Anjum, PDF 2014
  • Cody Brown, M.A.Sc. 2013
  • Dr. Jing Yan, PDF 2013
  • Dr. Juares Bianco, PDF 2013
  • Justin Lee, M.A.Sc. 2012
  • Hoi Ki Cheung, M.A.Sc. 2012
  • Sarah Fleming, M.A.Sc. 2011
  • Yimu Zhao, M.A.Sc. 2011
  • Richard Huang, M.Sc. 2010
  • Allison Turner, M.A.Sc. 2010