ZonMw grant for Catherine Robin and Riccardo Levato

ZonMw grant for Catherine Robin and Riccardo Levato

Riccardo Levato en Jos Malda

Catherine Robin and Riccardo Levato received a ZonMw open competition grant of €750.000. The grant offers them the opportunity to implement an innovative three-dimensional bioprinting technology for the study of blood stem cell production. 

The collaboration is a nice example of what the Regenerative Medicine Center Utrecht is about. Catherine Robin is group leader at the Hubrecht Institute and UMC Utrecht, and Riccardo Levato is associate professor at the UMC Utrecht and Utrecht University. By combining their expertise, they were able to come up with this innovative idea.  

The mystery of embryonic blood stem cells 

Robin’s research group investigates the production and expansion of blood stem cells (BSCs). BSCs are responsible for the constant replenishment of all different cell types found in the blood throughout one’s life, such as white blood cells, red blood cells, and blood platelets.  

BSCs are vital to maintaining a healthy blood system, but for people with a shortage, BSC transplants are not always an option because there are not enough compatible donors available. To circumvent this problem, researchers are trying to produce BSCs in the laboratory. The mystery is; it’s not completely understood how they arise in the embryo. Observations hint at the involvement of chemical cues in the blood or flow dynamics in the aorta. 

Trying out flow patterns 

Finding out how these BSCs develop is the aim of the project of Robin and Levato. They will use volumetric bioprinting technology to print miniature replicas of the embryonic aorta, the native birthplace of BSCs. Volumetric printing allows for accurate ‘editing’ of the model, for example tweaking the flow pattern, or adding chemicals at specific locations in the model. 

Robin: ‘We could use this 3D model to explore how blood flow, environmental cues and various aorta shapes influence BSC production. Our work could lay the foundation for generating BSCs in a lab setting.’ 

About the ZonMw Open Competition grant 

The ZonMw Open Competition grant is intended to promote innovative and curiosity-driven team science that leads to groundbreaking science of exceptional quality in the field of health research. The ZonMw assessment committee categorized the  proposal by Levato and Robin as ‘high priority’ and assessed it as ‘highly relevant’. 

Working at UMC Utrecht





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