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Spotlight on Research

Dr. Amy Wong - Bioengineering novel airway mimetics using human induced pluripotent stem cells for CF disease modeling and therapy
Dr. Amy Wong

Dr. Amy Wong is a scientist at The Hospital for Sick Children who was recently granted an early career investigator award for her study; Bioengineering novel airway mimetics using human induced pluripotent stem cells for CF disease modeling and therapy. Dr. Wong’s intention is to create the first humanized artificial airway to study the CF disease, focusing on the impact of mucus obstructions on airflow and cell functions. She proposes that if successful, this new tool will advance basic science discoveries in cystic fibrosis treatments and mechanisms. 

“I am very grateful for the support from CF Canada,” says Dr. Wong. “As an early career researcher, having the financial support to execute our research is not easy to come by. We know our work adds value to the field and to be recognized by our peers and receive this support from CF Canada means so much.” 

 What is expected of this study? 

Dr. Wong and her team hope that this study will help researchers gain knowledge in individual CF disease development and aid in basic science discoveries to the clinic. Current cell models are used as 2D platforms, so the proposal of creating a novel 3D airway imitation can have potential to reflect realistic physiological responses in airways, specifically looking at the impact of mucus obstructions on airflow and cell functions. 

“In CF airway disease, we know that mucus obstructions and impaired ciliary cell transport play an important role in disease pathogenesis. So, the effectiveness of drugs in the context of more complex disease is not adequately modeled in the 2D context,” says Dr. Wong, of 2D models: simple layers of cells growing on a flask or plate that are frequently studied by researchers. “For this reason, we want to create 3D models to understand how mucus and airflow obstruction stresses the cells and how they respond to injuries, and then leverage that knowledge to find targeted therapies.  3D models are more complex and can be challenging to develop, but they may behave more like cells in the human body.   

Dr. Wong and her team will be utilizing patient-derived stem cells (induced pluripotent stem cells; iPSCs) to generate airway cells and them grow them in 3 dimensionsWith the help of SickKids CF Centre, they will develop cell-based platforms to screen current and new drugs for CF. 

 How is this relevant to the CF community? 

The Canadian CF community identified cure CF with gene or stem cell therapies as one of their top health priorities, by using stem cells to build these new 3D airway tissues and will allow for accurate modeling of CF airways, Dr. Wong’s research will address this priority. She will also contribute to the health priority “predict and prevent pulmonary exacerbations” by using these models of patient-specific airway obstructions to potentially predict the effectiveness of CF drugs.  

“I hope to see significant advancements in both pharmacological and cell and gene-based therapies to treat rare CF mutations. Our work is not done. There are people with rare CF mutations that need our help to find a cure so that we can finally say CF is a rare disease that we can fix!” 

 Marsha Morton Early Career Investigator Award Winner 

Dr. Wong also received the Marsha Morton Early Career Investigator Award. This award is named after a 13-year old girl who died of cystic fibrosis in 1988 and is sponsored by the Kinsmen & Kinette Clubs of Canada. This award is presented to the highest-ranking application in the Early Career Investigator category. Marsha Morton was the official representative and poster child of the Kin-CF Canada partnership. Her spirit and motivation exemplify Kin Canada’s commitment to the CF cause.  

“This award means so much to me personally,” says Dr. Wong. “I have invested almost 20 years into lung research with a focus on cystic fibrosis and for me to be given this recognition means so much more to me knowing the significance to Marsha’s family and her legacy.” 

We congratulate Dr. Wong on this award and on receiving this grant, and we look forward to seeing the great work she achieves.