I’m fascinated by the combination of technology and living things

"My father is an artist and my mother, a change management leader, and I can now see that my creativity complements my appetite to test the frontiers. I combine science and technology into a form of geometric art, and try to imitate and incorporate nature’s elements and systems into solutions for complex human and animal health problems.

Enhancing nature
There’s no way we can replicate nature - it’s far too complicated. But we can come close, and the field of biofabrication is poised to revolutionise this. Biofabrication, like nature, relies on the convergence of multiple disciplines, and in Utrecht, we have the right combinations to make a difference in the future of our healthcare.

Joint problems
Joint pain affects millions of people world-wide and treatment is often inadequate. My own research uses biofabrication as a tool to repair and regenerate cartilage defects in the knee, in both humans and animals. My dual affiliation with the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine and the UMC Utrecht academic hospital, allows my group to capitalise on various areas of expertise and tackle challenges together.

Biofabrication
With biofabrication technologies, we can cast, mold, or print 3D structures that mimic native tissue architecture in our bodies more closely than ever before. What was once viewed as a new age printer, is now accepted as a new approach. The power of biofabrication becomes apparent when we combine these 3D structures with biomaterials (i.e., gels) and living cells. A static scaffold quickly transforms into a dynamic model. We’re using biofabrication to replace for damaged and diseased tissues and organs; to develop predictive testing microenvironments for drug toxicity; as a vehicle for stimulating our own body to repair itself; and to study biological processes.

Helping patients
Our investment in the Biofabrication Facility illustrates our commitment to helping patients. We envision that integrating biofabrication into existing disciplines and technologies (stem cell biology, informatics, medicine, engineering, chemistry, drug discovery, robotics) will accelerate our ability to produce tailor-made regenerative implants, not only for the knee, but for other organs and tissues as well."

Challenges
"I think the primary challenge right now is faithfully reproducing the in vivo environment (our body’s functions and processes) in the lab. We’re trying to make customised, artificially produced organs and tissues by mixing biomaterials, specific geometric shape and ex vivo cells in an adequate manner, with the right tools. This calls for a fine balance between what’s biologically accurate and technically feasible, without compromising on our end goal of creating new therapies and clinical models. Fortunately, we work with really smart people on the edge of what’s possible, and will continue to move this field forward.

Connecting the dots
As bright minds we have to be able to connect the dots, or sometimes invent a dot. Biofabrication enables us to bridge the gap between what’s known at the cellular level and at the tissue/organ level, between in vitro and in vivo model systems, and to fill a much needed niche of accurate predictive treatment/drug response assays. This can only be done by multidisciplinary teams who merge their talents and skills, and learn from each other."