Freda Miller

Freda is best known for proving skin can be a viable source of stem cells. Her groundbreaking discovery is certain to have significant therapeutic applications, including Freda’s primary area of investigation of diseases and injuries related to the nervous system. Freda is Senior Scientist in the Developmental & Stem Cell Biology program at The Hospital for Sick Children Research Institute. She holds the Canada Research Chair in Developmental Neurobiology, and is a professor at the University of Toronto.

Healing With Skin Cells

It may not seem that our skin and our central nervous systems have much in common. It turns out they do, especially when it comes to stem cells. Freda Miller found that skin-derived stem cells share characteristics with neural stem cells, which generate the  nervous system.

She also found something else. Skin-derived stem cells can produce Schwann cells. These are cells that can promote the repair of injured nervous systems. In 2007, she put it all together. She and her team used those skin-derived stem cells — or SKPs — to treat injured spinal cords in rats. The skin-derived stem cells, injected directly into the injured rats’ spinal cords, were able to survive in their new location and set off a flurry of activity. The rats regained mobility and had better walking coordination after the injection of the cells.

The potential for human application is enormous. In time, researchers hope to harvest stem cells from our own skin — the largest and most accessible organ — and use them to heal nervous systems that have been damaged through spinal cord injuries or diseases like Parkinson’s. Freda’s continued research is getting closer and closer to that dream.