Stem cells hold the key to cure liver diseases
It is well-known that the liver has regenerative capacity, however, this becomes exhausted, especially during chronic liver disease, which is the fifth leading cause of death in western society. Liver transplants are the only option for final-stage liver disease, but the lack of available organs drives the need for alternative therapies.
Our group focusses on molecular and clinical research of liver diseases and novel therapeutic options to treat chronic liver disease, for both veterinary and human health.
Organoids are 3D cell culture systems that are currently the closest ex-vivo near-physiological models of mammalian tissues and organs. These mini-organs hold great potential for understanding the biology behind normal tissue development and disease progression; to investigate pre-clinical testing for drug target identification and response; as an alternative patient-specific tissue source; and, when combined with editing technology, for gene therapy.
Hepatocytes are the workhorses of the liver, that perform a range of functions including regulation of metabolic and biochemical substances (i.e. glucose, cholesterol, blood clotting factors); detoxification of the liver, by removing harmful substances; and in liver regeneration.
Currently, hepatocytes derived from stem cells have limited functionality, which is why our lab focuses on the development of new technologies that will increase the functionality of these cells. We combine the use of co-cultures, bioreactors and reprogramming technologies to improve hepatocyte maturation and functionality.
There are similarities in clinical presentation and pathological features between canines and humans, and we have established various ‘first-in-dog’ clinical studies that can be easily translated to human medicine. These clinical studies range from recombinant protein therapies to stem cell transplantation, all focused on providing novel treatments to currently incurable liver diseases. We are fortunate to be located at the nexus of pre-clinical/clinical research, technologies and medicine, for both humans and domestic animals. Our team includes basic scientists, engineers, physician-scientists. Our proximity to the Hubrecht Institute and the UMC Utrecht ensures daily interaction with our partners.