This growing field converges biomedical research, innovative technology and patient care – with the goal of using the body’s own resources to regenerate and repair damaged tissues. Our mission embraces the full range of RM and its applications.
Regenerative medicine is an area of biomedical research, technology and patient care that is rapidly growing. It aims to develop novel therapies to help our bodies restore or regenerate organs and tissues that have been damaged by injury, ageing, cancer and disease. We currently rely on organ transplants and artificial devices, but these do not restore original tissues.
Our bodies contain stem cells, which are capable of regenerating damaged tissues and we hope that a wide variety of diseases can be treated either through cellular therapy or by stimulating the body’s own stem cells into repairing their own tissues.
In Utrecht, we have established a center that develops new regenerative and stem cell treatments for patients; that performs high-quality biomedical research; and that trains and educates future biomedical professionals. This center integrates human and animal scientists with clinicians and biomaterials experts, who work side-by-side in order to advance the potential of creating customized therapies for individual patients.
Prof. dr. Wouter Dhert is professor of Translational research of the musculoskeletal system and director of orthopaedic research, Dept. Orthopaedics. He focuses on regeneration of tissues of the musculoskeletal system, in particular bone, articular cartilage and intervertebral disc, including the development and use of biomaterials.
Specific applications in man and animal are spinal surgery and joint reconstruction. Furthermore, specific expertise exists with regards to biomaterials related infections in orthopaedics.
In Utrecht, we currently focus on three patient-centered themes: stem cell-based therapies, cardiovascular tissue regeneration and musculoskeletal tissue regeneration and all are supported by excellent fundamental science and a broad range of enabling technologies.
Utrecht is a pioneer in stem cell-based treatments and the UMC Utrecht hosts one of the strongest stem cell transplantation programs in the Netherlands. The large community of pre-clinical and clinical stem cell investigators, together with the GMP-accredited cell therapy facility (the only one within an academic center in the Netherlands), enables basic research and clinical application to move forward together.
Examples of stem cell research within this theme are outlined below:
The UMC Utrecht is a global leader in the development of novel technologies, such as 3D printing, the application of biomaterials and controlled release systems, and novel imaging modalities. Within this theme, we focus on several areas of the musculoskeletal system.
Researchers in this theme create a unique environment that enables rapid translation into the clinic and thus to the market; indeed, a spin-off company based on human cardiomyocyte research (Leadpharma) has been established. In addition, there are several clinical trials that are ongoing or finalized, with a focus that varies from the induction of vasculogenesis to myogenesis. We focus on several lines of research within this theme, as outlined below:
Through strong interactions with various research groups and companies, novel scaffolds are tested to enhance cell survival and prolong cell retention. Most recently, the development of a wearable artificial kidney is underway.
Improved recovery time, reduced costs, increased efficiency. These are addressed in the first (worldwide) clinical trial for repairing knee injuries at the UMC Utrecht.
The IMPACT clinical trial was initiated in 2013 in patients who have a small defect in the femur condyle or trochlea of the knee. Patients undergo a single surgery, where damaged cartilaginous tissue is removed, cartilage-forming cells isolated, then assembled together with allogeneic MSCs from the Cell Therapy Facility within a fibrin glue hydrogel. Overall, this therapy has the potential to drastically reduce costs and rehabilitation time, due to the single-step surgery, thus having a large impact on quality of life and health related cost-effectiveness.
The UMC Utrecht is the only center in the world currently conducting such a single-step cell therapy trial for cartilage defects containing this cell combination approach.
Critical limb ischemia (CLI) is a chronic condition caused by severe blockage of the arteries, most commonly due to atherosclerosis, thereby reducing blood flow to the lower extremities. UMC Utrecht investigators hypothesized that CLI patients house dysfunctional and reduced numbers of EPCs, resulting from bone marrow depletion and a disturbed progenitor cell mobilization response, and that infusion of bone marrow (BM)-derived mononuclear cells could provide an angiogenic environment to stimulate growth of collateral vessels.
We initiated and coordinated the JUVENTAS clinical trial: the first large double-blinded, randomized, placebo-controlled trial for CLI patients. A total of 160 patients underwent repeated intra-arterial infusion of autologous BM-derived mononuclear cells or placebo.
Preliminary analysis seems to indicate that, in this study, cellular therapy does not have significant benefit over placebo in patients with CLI. Further study is needed to investigate whether cell therapy with selected cell populations, enhanced BM cell function or whether alternative administration routes can provide therapeutic benefit.