When two worlds of research collide

Lauren Flynn, PhD

Lauren Flynn, PhD, is making the most of her joint appointment with Schulich Medicine & Dentistry and the Faculty of Engineering.

Since she joined Western University as an associate professor in January 2014, Flynn has had no shortage of collaborative opportunities, and continues to embrace new projects as they come her way.

“I’ve noticed there is a lot of interesting and dynamic activity taking place at Western, and there are several people I can work with,” Flynn said. “I’ve already had the opportunity to develop and collaborate on a number of new and exciting interdisciplinary research projects.”

Flynn’s research interests focus on the development of cell-based regenerative approaches with adipose-derived stem cells (ASCs) and naturally-derived bioscaffolds for applications in musculoskeletal regeneration. ASCs are stem cells similar to those found in bone marrow, but instead are found in human fat.

A main focus of Flynn’s research is developing new materials for soft tissue reconstruction, or actually replacing lost adipose tissue.

“If you have a deficit in your fatty tissue, it won’t regenerate on it’s own. That’s where our research comes in,” she explained. “If a patient loses a large volume of fat, for example after a lumpectomy or mastectomy, the fat won’t regenerate on it’s own and that results in a major deformity.”

Other applications include patients who have been involved in a traumatic injury that has caused them to lose a large volume of tissue, as well as congenital birth defects.

There is a considerable need to be able to regenerate adipose tissue for reconstruction applications, and the potential impact is broad and significant. Flynn said her team is working to try and move this research into clinical trials for small volume augmentation (working on people with small wrinkles or defects) as a starting point.

Flynn has always loved biology and human health, and she decided to enroll in the University of Toronto’s Biomedical Engineering program instead as it combined her love of problem solving and experimentation with human biology.

Now, Flynn’s favourite part of her role is working with the undergraduate and graduate students on her team and seeing them gain valuable experience.

“I really enjoy celebrating the successes of my students,” she said. “We’ve had a lot of success so far, and they’ve helped to make our lab a positive environment where people want to work and are excited about what we’re accomplishing. That creates such strong momentum.”