Results of the ThéCell 2023-2024 Research Projects Competition

The MRM Network and the Quebec Cell, Tissue and Gene Therapy Network (ThéCell) are pleased to announce the results of the ThéCell 2023-2024 Research Projects Competition.

ThéCell Research Projects are one-time research proposals in cell, tissue and gene therapy, aimed at exploring a research hypothesis, demonstrating the feasibility of a study, or carrying out translational research. This year, the MRM has partnered with the ThéCell Network to fund an additional project, led by an MRM member.

Dr. Jianyu Li

It is with great pleasure that we announce Dr. Jianyu Li, Assistant Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, as the winner of the joint ThéCell-MRM funding with his project entitled: “Stem cell-instructive hydrogels for intervertebral disc regeneration”.

Lay abstract:

The intervertebral disc (IVD) degeneration, as a major factor causing low back pain, first starts in the center nucleus pulposus (NP). Standard treatment might involve nucleotomy, causing loss of NP tissues and cells. Major issues include the lack of cell sources to replenish and the difficulty to deliver, support and secure the cells in the disc. Great demand exists for new strategies to deliver and support stem cells using engineered hydrogels for IVD regeneration. Whereas stem cells and engineered hydrogels have been explored for IVD applications, key challenges remain: firstly, the hydrogels cannot efficiently guide the differentiation of stem cells; second, the cell-laden hydrogels are prone to extrusion from the disc. This project will address the long-lasting challenges. We will develop and validate stem cell-instructive hydrogels to regenerate IVD post-nucleotomy. We will explore the combination of viscoelastic cues and adhesion ligands in alginate hydrogels to differentiate adipose derived stem cells, and then validate it using in-house human disc culture model with bioreactors. This project will build new collaboration and pioneer new mechanobiology and translational biomaterials for IVD regeneration.

We also would like to acknowledge Dr. Li’s co-investigators for this project: Dr. Lisbet Haglund from McGill University and Dr. Julie Fradette, from Université Laval.


The list of projects that were funded as part of the 2023-2024 ThéCell Research Projects Competition is available on the ThéCell Network’s website.

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