‘One day, we’ll grow complete organs in the lab’

In 2015, Lorenzo Moroni was one of the trailblazers of MERLN, a group led by Clemens van Blitterswijk. “We started out with 13 people,” recalls the Italian-born and educated biomedical engineer. “We have since increased this number tenfold to over 130 employees from 40 countries, most of whom are researchers and specialists active in the field of cell culture and biomedical materials.'

'You could say that we really earned our position at the teaching hospital. While this is a great achievement, we’re still just at the beginning of an era in which regenerative medicine is expected to really take off. And though we have definitely made progress, the major goals are still a long way off.”

Major goals

So what are these major goals? “One day, we’ll be able to grow complete organs in the lab, of this I am absolutely certain. Kidneys, livers, hearts grown from stem cells or using what are known as ‘inductive’ materials. I can’t say whether or not we’ll live to see that. I certainly hope so, and I am only 45, but it’s still just a dream for now, of course. For the time being, we’re looking at a slightly closer horizon: growing cells that we can use to repair damage in the body. This might include part of a kidney that we grow with stem cells, combined with biomaterials, so that we can implant this in a damaged kidney. The same applies to heart cells. After a heart attack, tissue often dies and does not regenerate, and this can have serious consequences. We can fix this with a strip of cultured heart cells. Think of it like a bandage that you apply to the heart muscle.”