Regenerative medicine is aimed at improving health by restoring tissue and organ function. Replacing, engineering, or regenerating cells following transplantation allows tissues to be restored. To achieve this, more insight is needed into the biology of stem cells that replenish tissues and into how they can be engineered to improve their function with ageing.

The programme is aimed at expediting the development of regenerative medicine therapies by bridging the gap between fundamental and translational research. The programme focuses on how stem cells with the ability to replenish aged or damaged tissues work and how these stem cells can be stimulated to produce new organ-specific cells in a safe way.

The main research topics include:

  • The biology of stem cells, including induced pluripotent stem cells and tools for genome engineering of stem cells;
  • The biology of stem cell-derived, differentiated tissues and their 2D and 3D culture systems, including organoids and organ-on-a-chip cultures;
  • The interaction of regenerated tissues with their macro- and micro-environment and with non-biological materials.
Relevance

Improving health span

Regenerative medicine holds great promise for the development of novel treatments to improve patients’ health span.

The programme is aimed at repairing or replacing damaged tissues and organs using biological engineering strategies. Regenerative medicine interventions are currently under development in all medical fields, ranging from neurological disorders to cardiovascular and orthopaedic disorders. Furthermore, regenerative medicine could play a role in counteracting the natural ageing processes in the body. The research activities include:

  • Bringing together a multidisciplinary team of researchers and clinicians, focused on regenerative medicine in the broadest sense;
  • Facilitating collaborations to encourage cross-disciplinary thinking and collaborative science in the field of regenerative medicine, with a focus on developing a bench-to-bedside approach; 
  • Focusing on translation of this knowledge to treatments in clinical practice, thereby helping to improve the health span of the elderly in the future.
  • Although stem cell technology has allowed the generation of all tissue types in a dish, even in 3D culture settings, most of these cultures only involved one tissue type. This was mainly due to the fact that each cell type required specific culture media. This programme aims to overcome this obstacle by using organ-on-a-chip technology that allows the culturing of multiple cell types within a single ‘chip’, where each cell type is being fed by separate microchannels. Fortunately, the different cell types are still close enough to interact. This procedure enables the researchers to study the interaction between tissues generated from patient-derived stem cells.

    The University Medical Center Groningen (UMCG) participates in a large national consortium that elevates the level of organ-on-a-chip technology to a new level. The Regenerate programme connects researchers with expertise in stem cell technology with researchers who are able to further develop organ-on-a-chip technology, expediting the application of organ-on-a-chip technology using patient-derived pluripotent stem cells.

    For more information, please visit: NOCI.

  • The introduction of protocols for reprogramming all somatic cells into pluripotent stem cells has allowed induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) to be generated from every patient and healthy donor. Since pluripotent stem cells can be used to generate any cell type in culture, this technology has been revolutionizing the field of regenerative medicine, especially in combination with CRISPR genome engineering.

    The iPSC/CRISPR facility was established in 2016 and supports scientists and clinicians in generating iPSCs. In this facility, researchers developed protocols to alter the genome of the iPSCs based on CRISPR genome engineering technology. This allows the generation of, for instance, patient-derived stem cells and differentiated progeny in which a pathogenic DNA mutation is repaired. Scientists can subsequently compare cells in which such a pathogenic mutation is repaired with cells in which the mutation is not repaired, to improve our molecular understanding of disease.

    For more information, please visit: iPSC/CRISPR facility.

  • Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a devastating disease that results from loss of myelin, the protective surrounding of neurons in the brain and spinal cord. Over time, MS can lead to various symptoms, such as muscle weakness and loss of coordination. Although malfunctioning of the immune system appears to contribute to myelin destruction, the genetic and environmental risk factors for MS remain largely unknown.

    Thanks to funding awarded by the VriendenLoterij, the Netherlands’ national culture lottery, the Regenerate programme was able to establish a biobank of iPSCs derived from MS patients and unaffected family members. This biobank will serve as a biorepository for MS researchers in the Netherlands and beyond, allowing our understanding of the biology behind MS to be extended and widely shared.