University of Regina associate professor Amy Zarzeczny is peering ahead three years with a bright outlook, after being named one of several recipients of national funding for research centred on regenerative medicine, like stem cells and tissue engineering.
The science behind regenerative medicine has been around for decades, but research is always advancing and discovering new ways to use the methods.
For Zarzeczny, who works within the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy, that means there is a continual need to look at how to take new techniques from research labs to patients — which is where her work comes in.
Zarzeczny is the lead researcher on a multidisciplinary project examining the intricacies of regulation development when introducing regenerative therapies into clinical use.
The project is the recipient of just over $700,000 in funding from Stem Cell Network (SCN) as part of a $19.5 million investment from the non-profit supporting 31 research projects involving regenerative medicine with either a clinical, ethical or legal focus.
Zarzeczny’s project is a collaboration with Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy professor Timothy Caulfield and Dr. Ubaka Ogbogu from the University of Alberta, as well as international partners from a variety of countries, including Australia, U.K., South Africa and France, offering expertise in law, science communication and medicine.
Ultimately, Zarzeczny and her collaborators are looking to do the academic legwork that will help inform policy-makers on a government level when creating oversight mechanisms for these therapies.
“It’s very much a collaborative effort, a team project,” said Zarzeczny. “I think it’s exciting, because it does signal the importance of that side of research to operate in concert with the bench science and clinical translation work.”
Zarzeczny’s project has three main branches of focus — examining regulatory frameworks for therapy approval in Canada compared to other countries; the regulation structure applied to clinical providers of the medicine; and the information environment to determine what role it plays in public trust.
“It’s really important, from our perspective, to have strong regulations and governance frameworks that not only support the development of safe and effective therapies but also ideally limit or prevent premature or inappropriate usage,” said Zarzeczny.
This kind of policy-related research is continual, she said. It may not be new, but it plays a significant role.
“If we have strong regulations, governance and oversight, that really warrants public confidence in treatments that are available, and helps people understand the state of science, its complexities and limitations.”
The funding from SCN will be used primarily for training opportunities for new researchers over the next three years, but will also support research activity like surveys and presentations.
Zarzeczny said the team is excited to bring on early-career research associates and grad students to take part, and to bolster a new wave of researchers for the future.
And, she added, it’s a great opportunity for Saskatchewan to take the spotlight as a research hub that can engage in national and global issues.
“It does heighten the profile of our province and our universities, because we are small,” said Zarzeczny. “But it gives us more of a presence, nationally and internationally, which will hopefully attract even more talented students.”
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