Peter Zandstra, Ph.D.'s picture
Zandstra, Ph.D.
Director, Michael Smith Laboratories
Director, School of Biomedical Engineering

The University of British Columbia


Peter Zandstra graduated with a Bachelor of Engineering degree from McGill University in the Department of Chemical Engineering, and obtained his Ph.D. degree from the University of British Columbia in the Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology, under the supervision of Jamie Piret and Connie Eaves. He continued his research training as a Post-Doctoral Fellow in the field of Bioengineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (with Doug Lauffenburger) before being appointed to the University of Toronto in 1999.
His vision is to translate the biological properties and potential of stem cells into useful applications that benefit society. Zandstra has focused his career on the development of, and contributions to, the field of “Stem Cell Bioengineering”, a term first used in a 2001 article by Zandstra and Nagy and which is defined as an endeavor focused on the quantitative control of stem cell fate and the development of technologies for stem cell-based therapies. “I believe that significant health and economic benefits of regenerative medicine requires the application of fundamental engineering principles to stem cell biology”, says Zandstra.
An advocate for bioprocess engineering strategies and how these strategies have enabled the manufacture of many biotechnological products has significantly advanced the understanding of stem cell biology, immunology, and tissue regeneration. Most suggestively, how these biotechnology products can be translated into cellular therapies that could cure debilitating degenerative disease.
Research in the Zandstra Laboratory is therefore, focused on the generation of functional tissue from adult and pluripotent stem cells. His groups’ quantitative, bioengineering-based approach strives to gain new insight into the fundamental mechanisms that control stem cell fate and to develop robust technologies for the use of stem cells and their derivatives to treat disease. Specific areas of research focus include blood stem cell expansion and the generation of cardiac tissue and blood progenitors from pluripotent stem cells.

Title of Abstract

Engineering Stem Cell Fate and Function


Our vision is to understand, at a fundamental level, the mechanisms by which complex tissues develop from pluripotent stem cells (PSC), and to use this understanding to advance new cell therapies and regenerative medicines.
Our approach is based on three complementary thrusts. First, we are developing computer simulations of normal and diseased human tissue development. These simulations allow us to connect the regulatory coding inside PSC to the environment or niche that influences cell growth and differentiation. Second, guided by our computational modeling, we are rewiring the regulatory code in PSC and engineering the environment around the cells, to understand the key requirements of tissue development, and to develop ways to efficiently and effectively specify the emergence of target cell and tissue types. Third, with our partners, we are moving promising discoveries towards the clinic using advanced models of disease and ultimately first-in-man clinical trials.
In this presentation I will focus on our recent data patterning pluripotent stem cells into gastrulation-like tissue structures (gastruloids), and guiding the subsequent formation of blood and lymphoid cells derived from these tissues using artificial thymic tissue-like synthetic niches.

Research Interests

The Zandstra lab is interested in how individual cells form complex tissues and organs. His research focuses on understanding multiscale interactions between cells, and the influence of these interactions on internal regulatory control networks, and the external microenvironment that shapes cell fate and functional tissue development. His team is developing mathematical models of interactions between cellular regulatory networks and their local microenvironment, and using model predictions to guide the design of engineered niches and synthetic cells that detect, select and control functional tissue development from adult and pluripotent stem cells. These discoveries will elucidate the process of multicellular organization into complex functional tissues and enable production of therapeutically relevant cell types, with a particular focus on the blood cell forming system.