15 million euros towards solving chronic back pain

Professor Marianna Tryfonidou launches large international consortium

Hundreds of millions of people all over the world have chronic back pain, while there still is no adequate treatment or medication for this. Professor of Regenerative Orthopedics Marianna Tryfonidou wants to change that. First in dogs, later in humans. She has founded a consortium of twenty partners, iPSpine, and will now receive a grant of 15 million euros from the Horizon 2020 programme of the European Commission.

Portretfoto Tryfonidou

Chronic back aches can have several causes, but the problem is a worn-out intervertebral disc in roughly forty percent of the cases. This involves about 280 million cases – people who are often still in their working lives. In the EU alone, that results in a financial loss of close to 240 billion euros per year. Marianna Tryfonidou initiated the consortium iPSpine (the abbreviation of induced pluripotent stem cell-based therapy for spinal regeneration).

“There is currently no good treatment for this type of chronic back pain,” Marianna Tryfonidou says. “Serious surgery can help, but that is often insufficient.”



In the upcoming five years, the iPSpine consortium will develop an advanced treatment based on so-called ATMPs (advanced therapy medicinal products). The plan is to develop a treatment that can rejuvenate problematic intervertebral discs by means of specially-grown stem cells. A complicated process; smart biomaterials must be used to create a micro environment in which these stem cells can grow into the right kind of regenerative cells.

'We intend for far more disciplines of Medicine to benefit from this project'

“That has never been done this way and that's why we work with twenty different partners, who each contribute their own unique expertise,” Tryfonidou says. Among them are – of course – Utrecht University and University Medical Center Utrecht, which receive 3.5 million and 750,000 euros respectively from the grant of 15 million. The Utrecht team of scientists will be closely collaborating, and housed at the Regenerative Medicine Utrecht campus. Universities from the Netherlands (Eindhoven University of Technology), six other EU member states, the US and Hong Kong are also involved. In the Netherlands, the patient will be represented by ReumaNederland. “Five years from now, there will be proof that this treatment is safe and the first steps for dogs with back pain will be taken in the clinic,” Tryfonidou states.

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Translation to treatment for humans.

But it will not end there. “At the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, we are good at translating such research into treatments for animals and – together with our partners – for humans as well. That is the ultimate goal of this project, after all. We even intend for far more disciplines of Medicine to benefit from iPSpine. Within this consortium, we develop trailblazing platforms to share the knowledge, the test phase and the application of our findings with. These can be used in other advanced therapies that are being developed within regenerative medicine, organoids and genetic modification.”