UT professor Albert van den Berg has scooped the prestigious ERC Advanced Grant from the European Union for the second time. This scholarship is already regarded as very prestigious, but within the current call, together with only a few other Dutch researchers, Van den Berg received a second ERC Advanced Grant. Up to this year, only one other Dutch researcher had been able to achieve this. Van den Berg receives a research grant of 2.25 million euros that he, together with staff members from his research team, will use to cultivate blood vessels on a chip, made from 'reprogrammed' human stem cells. The blood vessels will then be used to develop disease models to improve research into the occurrence of thrombosis and brain diseases such as Alzheimer's and MS.
By growing small organs on a chip, it is easier and safer to test new medicines and conduct research into the origins of diseases. Moreover, it is a good method of reducing the number of laboratory animals used for medical research. The organs on chips are small devices that accurately mimic living cells and which can accurately be measured.
Albert van den Berg, who is attached to the UT research institutes MIRA and MESA+, will use his scholarship to grow three-dimensional blood vessels on a chip. One of the innovative aspects of this research is that he will use human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSC) for this, with the expertise of Professor Mummery being deployed. These are normal cells, which are 'reprogrammed' into stem cells: cells that have the ability to develop into all kinds of different tissues, depending upon the way in which you grow them. There are no ethical concerns about using these stem cells and they make it possible to cultivate organs from the patient's own material.
In the research, using MESA+ Nanolab and MIRA facilities, Van den Berg will develop a new method to print the blood vessels in 3D on a chip. He will then use the blood vessels to perform research into thrombosis (blood clots that can occur in veins and which can be fatal if they become detached), and to develop a model of the blood-brain barrier (this is the natural barrier that keeps blood and cerebrospinal fluid separate). This will allow him to examine how nanoparticles, proteins, and white blood cells cross the barrier. This is relevant knowledge to better understand brain diseases like Alzheimer's and Multiple Sclerosis (MS).
Prof. dr. ir. Albert van den Berg is active as professor at the BIOS/Lab-on-a-Chip group (part of the UT MESA+ and MIRA research institutes) and as scientific director of the UT MIRA research institute. He received an ERC Advanced Grant for the first time in 2008. The program is expected to start after the summer when contractformalities are finalised.
Van den Berg scooped this scholarship for the second time with the project that he calls Vescel: (Vascular Engineering on chip using differentiated Stem Cells). The project combines the research areas of the research institutes that he works for: nanotechnology (MESA+) and biomedical technology (MIRA).
Van den Berg is one of the most prominent researchers in the Netherlands. He received, for example, the Simon Stevin Meester award (the highest award within the field of Dutch technical sciences) and the Spinozapremie (the Netherlands' highest scientific award). Van den Berg is also one of the initiators of the recently launched research consortium hDMT (Institute for human Organ and Disease Model technology), that turns The Netherlands into a global player in organ-on-a-chip technology.
The European Research Council Advanced Grant is a prestigious European grant given to individual researchers. When awarding the grant, not only the submitted research proposal is taken into account, but also the merit and qualities of the researcher and the research previously carried out by this person.