Home / News / Irene L. Llorente, PhD, joins Stanford Medicine Department of Neurosurgery

Irene L. Llorente PhD, joins Stanford Medicine Department of Neurosurgery

October 31, 2022

We are pleased to welcome Irene L. Llorente, PhD, to our department. Dr. Llorente's appointment as Assistant Professor of Neurosurgery begins December 1, 2022. 

Following her undergraduate degree in Molecular Biology at the University of Leon in Spain, Dr. Llorente completed an MS in Molecular Biology and Biomedicine and a Ph.D. in Neuroscience between the Universities of Leon (Spain) and Florence (Italy). She conducted a postdoctoral fellowship in the Neurology Department at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA where she also started her independent career as a Research Assistant Professor. Her research interests are largely directed toward understanding the biology of white matter repair in central nervous system (CNS) disorders, with a special emphasis on human glial biology. She is particularly interested in leveraging the current technologies emerging in the stem cell field to develop more efficient and effective stem cell-based therapies for stroke and vascular dementia patients. These stem cell-based therapies will also apply to other CNS disorders including spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis, and traumatic brain injury in the future.

We spoke with Dr. Llorente about her stem cell research, her interest in finding new treatments that can repair the brain, and her extracurricular activities.

How did you decide on a career in neuroscience and why did you choose your area of study?

When I was a child, I was obsessed with the European cartoon “Erase una vez... La Vida” (Once Upon a time… The Life). This cartoon series thought me about the circulatory, endocrine, and digestive systems, the different organs, and their functions, and of course the brain. 

This is a long way to say I have always been fascinated about the brain and how this intricate three-dimensional, multi-cellular complex machine works. I then organically become more and more interested in not only understanding the brain in healthy conditions but during disease. Because what else is out there more exciting than fixing a broken machine/puzzle?  

All of these things have defined how I ended up choosing my area of study starting with my pre-doctoral work, which was focused on studying the neuroprotective effect of GABA and Meloxicam on different experimental models of cerebral ischemia. Through this work, I came to understand that although stroke is currently the most prevalent neurological disease, subcortical white matter stroke and the biology of white matter repair is understudied and remains an important topic in the field. Because of this for my postdoctoral training, I decided to focus on understanding how the natural biology of white matter structure and white matter progenitors can be manipulated to promote repair after stroke. Ever since my research has been focused largely on understanding the biology of white matter repair in central nervous system disorders, with a special emphasis on human glial biology. Through this work, I was able to develop several potential stem-cell-based therapeutics to gain a better understanding of the mechanisms of recovery of several central nervous system disorders and to treat them. 

Can you tell us a little more about your stem cell research?

Absolutely! Throughout the different stages of my scientific career, I have always been interested in the development of therapeutic interventions for neurologic diseases. In the past 10 years, the main focus of my research has been to understand the biology of white matter repair in central nervous system disorders and more specifically to understand the role of glial progenitor cells in neural repair following white matter stroke. Based on this work I have developed a promising allogeneic human induced pluripotent stem cell (hiPSC) derived Glial Enriched Progenitor (GEP) cell therapy product for the treatment of white matter stroke and vascular dementia. This novel therapeutic can replace lost glia, induce structural repair in white matter stroke and vascular dementia, and leads to the restoration of neurological functions. With these accomplishments as foundation, now in my new lab I aim to continue driving this potential cell-based therapy through the translational pathway, to accelerate progress toward a clinical trial. 

But that is not all! I am also currently working on several other exciting therapeutics, like biomaterials or hiPSC-inhibitory interneurons to treat large grey matter cortical strokes. I am using these successful therapeutic products not only as therapies but as magnifying glasses to understand neuronal network function, and cellular and molecular mechanisms of post-stroke recovery, to identify other novel therapeutic targets for neural repair in this disease.

What are the clinical implications for your research?

The vast majority of my most translational research has been aimed to repair the brain after stroke, white matter injury or vascular dementia. But these novel therapeutics that we have developed in the lab have the potential to not only benefit these diseases but many others like spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis, traumatic brain injury or ALS. The neurosurgery department at Stanford University has outstanding specialists on such diseases and I am very much looking forward to future collaborations with my new colleagues, to build new research programs that can benefit those communities of patients as well.

What kind of activities do you pursue outside of work?

I am a camp lover and avid hiker. I have hike all around the globe from the Argentinian Patagonia to volcanos in Bali and Greece or Glaciers in Iceland. Although I am a very outdoor active person, on my more relax days I love to read noir or mystery novels by the beach.

 Name one fun fact about you.

I am fluent in 4 different languages, but I can only do Math and count in one of them. Which means that when I am pipetting a qPCR plate, I can only count the wells out loud in Spanish. Every single one of my teammates now knows how to count to 400 in Spanish.