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TU/e professor breaks new ground with development of artificial tissue

Thursday, 11 April 2024
TU Eindhoven

TU/e professor breaks new ground with development of artificial tissue

Jan van Hest receives ERC Advanced Grant for interplay between cells ánd scientific disciplines.

Muscles are not only important for a killer body, but also for a healthy one. They are complex systems in which different cells play their own role. To better understand the function of living cells, Jan van Hest has long been developing artificial cells that can be studied outside the body. Especially there, the mutual interplay can be well observed. The next goal is to create artificial muscle tissue, because that does not yet exist. This brings better medicines, which no longer need to be tested on animals or humans, one step closer. For this project PRO-ARTIS, Van Hest is receiving an ERC Advanced Grant.

The ERC Advanced Grant is awarded annually on a personal basis and provides Jan van Hest with 2.5 million euros to spend on his own research over the next five years as he wishes. The grant means Van Hest can give his project PRO-ARTIS (Protein-regulated artificial cell populations and tissues) a flying start. Yet he is involving multiple scientific disciplines right away. "Because that's where exciting developments are taking place and that's the only way to really get ahead", he states.

“"You have diggers and grazers, I myself am more of a grazer. I like to push the boundaries of my knowledge."”
Professor Jan van Hest

Cutting edge of disciplines

Thus, he is also attached to two TU/e departments: Chemical Engineering and Chemistry and Biomedical Engineering. His wide-ranging career brought him to the cutting edge of chemistry, biology and technology. That same cutting edge also ties in well with the ERC Advanced Grant. That award is linked specifically to an individual, but is also intended for the development of entirely new areas of research (so-called fundamental ‘high risk, high gain’ research).

"A grant like this offers significant opportunities. So obviously I am very happy about that", Van Hest says. "Not in the least because the award is peer-reviewed. Surely that does a lot."

Shrinking and swelling of muscle tissue

The new research Van Hest has in mind has two main goals: "First, I want to create artificial tissue to mimic the natural behavior of body cells in it, and then enable the growth of that artificial tissue. Take muscle tissue, for example: in a human body, collagen fibers between muscle tissue allow muscles to contract and expand again, as happens when you extend and retract your arm."

"Those collagen fibers then move over each other, allowing muscle tissue to contract and swell. Then consider that the heart is also a large muscle, in which a continuous process of contraction and expansion occurs unconsciously as you breathe. We are trying with our artificial tissue to mimic this natural behavior of shrinking and swelling. Eventually, we want to develop that more broadly than just for muscle tissue."