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Science Honours Academy

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Interfacultary Symposium: Regenerative Medicine

The interfacultary symposium of March 29th was organised with a very intriguing topic to everyone who is at least a little bit interested in medicinal research: “Regenerative medicine”. But firstly, even though we have all heard about regenerative medicine and the promises that it makes either from our professors, the news, maybe a friend; do we actually understand what regenerative medicine even is? According to the wikipedia definition, it is a branch of translational research in tissue engineering and molecular biology which deals with the “processes of replacing engineering or regenerating human cells, tissues or organs to restore or establish normal function”. So, if we simplify a little bit, it is a research area which focuses on treating diseases and disorders with engineering new organs, tissues and cells; or regenerating already existing ones. Currently, it is one of the most promising research areas in medicine, especially in regards to difficult cases that require personalised treatment.

Four appealing speakers were invited to this symposium: Dr. Riccardo Levato, Dr. Renee van Weeren, Dr. Alain Faiz and Dr. Marten Engelse.

The speakers covered different aspects of the research that is currently being done in regenerative medicine, all the way from bioprinting for veterinary applications to genetic modifications with CRISPR/CAS9 and a very specific lecture about treating patients with diabetes. But let’s start at the beginning.

The first lecture from Dr. Riccardo Levato gave us a meaningful insight in bioprinting or in other words patterning and assembling living and non-living materials with a prescribed 2D or 3D organisation. Currently bioprinting is being used for printing patient specific tissues and prosthesis as well as pre-surgical practice and planning. The speaker discussed different technologies used for these procedures, such as laser-induced forward transfer, inkjet printing and robotic dispensing; their advantages and disadvantages; and possible future applications. Bioprinting definitely is and will be an important technique in medicinal development.

The symposium continued with a lecture from Dr. Renee van Weeren, who showed us the usage of regenerative medicine and its future application in animals. Moreover, the speaker indicated that animals show anatomical similarity with humans, for example equine and human cartilage are very comparable; and therefore, technology which is already being used in animals could be very soon be used in humans as well. The lecture concluded with a very important thought, that biomechanical factors are more important than generally thought and therefore long-term testing in challenging large animal model is mandatory, irrespective of how brilliant in vitro and short-term in vivo tests seem to be.

After a short break and a delicious dinner, the symposium continued with a lecture about genetic modifications and CRISPR/CAS9. Dr. Alain Faiz explained how CRISPR/CAS9 is made, its function and how to pick the proper genetic sequence to put in the enzymatic complex. Furthermore, he discussed in detail all the possible applications of this method. Interestingly, there are almost infinite possibilities of using CRISPR/CAS9 in medicine, but research is currently focusing on 3 major utilizations: creation of knockout cell line or animal models to provide more accurate disease models, alteration of single nucleotide polymorphism to repair singe nucleotide defect or mutation; and targeted epigenetic editing to modify epigenetic markers such as DNA methylation that regulates gene expression. CRISPR/CAS9 is the most promising method of gene therapy and has been just approved for first tests in humans.

The last speaker of the day Dr. Marten Engelse, who talked about human pancreatic islet transplantation in the Netherlands for the patients suffering from type 1 diabetes. The speaker argued that the main problem is variability of islets in shape and size that affects their survival and function after transplantation. The problem was solved by using a novel agarose microwell platform that supports reproducible production of 3-dimensional pancreatic cell clusters of human donor islets. This platform provides a reliable tool to study cell-cell interactions between insuloma and/or primary islet cells. Additionally, in vivo studies showed that these cells after transplantation retain endocrine function and they possess high survival rates compared to old transplantation techniques.

It was, in fact, extremely interesting to listen to all the lecturers as their presentations offered a valuable insight in the research currently being done and all the possibilities that this research is opening in the future. In the end, I would like to say many thanks to the symposium committee for great organisation of this interfacultary symposium.

By: Miha Sovrovič