Regenerative medicine

Nf 2014Most people probably remember the infamous image of a mouse with an ear on its back. Prompting quite some debate in the 1990's, the Vacanti mouse, demonstrated the latest possibilities of tissue engineering. In this case cartilage. More than 15 years on state-of-the art tissue engineering and regenerative medicine is starting to look less science-fiction and more thought provoking. From potentially solving the problem of organ donation to wound healing, the implications in personalised healthcare and healthy aging are far reaching. Can we really construct working artificial organs? What are the ethical boundaries and considerations? In a symposium with the world's top researchers, New Frontiers in Regenerative Medicine looked at the latest research findings. A glimpse into the future.

Regenerative medicine takes full advantage of molecular life science developments in stem cell and molecular biology, epigenetics, genomics and proteomics and biomaterials and bioengineering, while seizing new opportunities as they emerge from advances in molecular diagnostics, imaging guided therapies for the minimally invasive treatments and novel drugs. True to New Frontiers, a top line-up of speakers provided high-quality presentations on current achievements and challenges ahead.

001-bob LangerIn front of an audience of more than 350 scientists - nearly half from outside Nijmegen, Prof. Paul Smits, Dean / vice-chairman Radboud University Medical Center, opened the  symposium. The first speaker, Prof. Bob Langer, needed little introduction. By many regarded as the founding father of regenerative medicine with a CV that may sound a little like science fiction! With more than 1100 articles, 90,000 citations and 700 patents to his name, as well as being the only person to be elected to all four U.S. national academies, it was an incredible honour to host him in Nijmegen. Perhaps more a lesson in how to generate patents than hard-core science, the message was clear. Use your first publication draft as a basis for your patent application. Prof. Langer spoke about his many successes in launching new products from tumor-zapping nanoparticles to biosensors and blood tests, synthetic spinal cords, even anti-frizz hair products.

The first session, emerging biomaterials, focused essentially on nanotechnology. Samuel Stupp (Northwestern University, USA) discussed his latest research strategies that utilize supramolecular self-assembly to create bioactive and biomimetic nanostructures that emulate components of the extracellular matrix.  In particular, for controlling the differentiation of neural stem cells, targeting of therapies in the cardiovascular system, and the regeneration of connective tissues. Achim Goepferich (University of Regensburg, Germany) discussed the challenges of nanoparticle design and development for retinal therapy. Whilst Ali Khademhosseini (Massachusetts Institute of Technology,  USA) and Phillip B. Messersmith (Northwestern University, Illinois, USA) discussed the use of hydrogels for modifying cell behavior and ultimately for tissue regeneration/wound healing.

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The second session focused on tissue engineering. Clemens van Blitterswijk (Maastricht University, NL) started with high-throughput engineering. How doe cell form influence cell function and regenerative capacity (e.g. adherence, proliferation, differentiation and morphogenesis)? His lab has developed multiple technology platforms allowing researchers to expose cells and multicellular aggregates to different shapes and environmental conditions. In single assays, thousands of iterations can be run in parallel. James Kirkpatrick (Johannes Gutenberg University, DE) continued on human cells co-culture systems to target the vasculature, in particular to aid nanoparticle delivery to and transport across the air-blood and blood-brain barriers.
How to you go from a cell-based product to clinical production and application? Simply said, not straightforward. Frank Luyten (KU Leuven, BE) discussed his work in setting-up a regulatory framework in both Europe and the USA, whereby tissue engineered products can prove their safety and effectiveness. For these types of "Advanced Therapeutic Medicinal Products", to live up to the standards of drug development, challenges arise towards practical implementation but also to legislation and ethics. Jeffrey Hubbell (Institute for Bioengineering, Switzerland & University of Chicago, USA) rounded the session off with his latest finding on engineering growth factors to be immobilized to the extracellular matrix.

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See the photos of the first day of this symposium here.

The first day closed with a great party at Landmark Wijnfort Lent with a live jazz band "De Compaenen". (Link)

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The second day of the symposium focused initially on stem cells. Gernot Walko from Fiona Watt's lab (King's College London, UK) presented work on the role of interactions between epidermal cells and their environment in regulating stem cell behavior, in particular relating to healthy- and diseased skin. In a change to the advertised programme, the talk was given by Molly Stevens (Imperial College London, UK) discussed her work exploring and engineering the cell-material interface followed by Henk Stunnenberg (Radboud University, Nijmegen) who discussed his lab's efforts to decipher the epigenetic mechanisms linked to pluripotency.

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Using smart chemistry, Teruo Okano (Tokyo Women's Medical University (TWMU), Tokyo, Japan) has developed a pioneering method to release cultured cells from surfaces as a single layer without the need for enzymes, thus leaving the cell layer with extracellular matrix (ECM) intact. This technique of cell-sheet engineering has already been successfully applied in the clinic to treat various medical conditions, including cornea epithelium deficient disease, esophageal epithelial cancer and cardio-myopathy. Work is ongoing to construct cell sheets consisting of more than one type of cell in order to create three dimensional biological constructs complete with the desired prevascular networks.




014-yooJames J. Yoo (Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, USA) presented insights into new therapeutic opportunities for repairing tissue abnormalities. Researchers at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine are using modified ink-jet technology to build a variety of tissue and organ prototypes. This technology allows multiple cell types and other tissue components to be arranged in pre-determined locations with high precision. In an early form of the technology, various cell types were placed in the wells of an actual ink cartridge and a printer was programmed to arrange the cells in a pre-determined order. The technology is now being adapted to a fully automated system in clean room environment with the envisaged capacity to build whole organs.

Stem cell technology has become one of the most interesting technologies in the way in which it poses challenges to the existing ethics of research in biomedicine. Some of these challenges have been very well known in the past, but others pose new and profound questions. For instance whether the therapeutic use of autologous stem cells should be viewed in the same perspective as drug related research in terms of safety and efficacy.  Evert van Leeuwen (Radboud University Medical Center, Nijmegen) presented his thoughts, as well as public perception of science: hype versus hope.

Bloemendal MedalThe symposium was drawn to a close with inspiring keynote lecture by Christine Mummery (Leiden University Medical Centre, Leiden) on utilizing derivatives of human pluripotent stem cells to model and understand the onset of many human diseases. The Hans Bloemendal Medal for 2014 was awarded to Professor Christine Mummery, in recognition of her groundbreaking studies in stem cell engineering and development  [link].

Also this year we had a poster session during the 2 days of the Symposium. An excellent jury, has awarded three best poster prizes. They received a certificate and an amount of money.

The prize winners of 2014:

René Raavé

Mani Diba

Jitske Jansen



The symposium was a huge success and paves the way for the next 'Radboud Frontiers' symposium on cilia [link].

For a photo impression of the second day of New Frontiers 2014 click here.