Copyright: Hubrecht Institute.

3 April 2024

ZonMw grant for Catherine Robin and Riccardo Levato

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Catherine Robin, group leader at the Hubrecht Institute, has received a ZonMw Open Competition grant in collaboration with Riccardo Levato from the Regenerative Medicine Center Utrecht. The ZonMw assessment committee categorized their proposal as ‘high priority’ and assessed it as ‘highly relevant’. The grant of 750,000 euros offers them the opportunity to implement an innovative 3-dimensional bioprinting technology for the study of blood stem cell production.

Catherine Robin’s research group investigates the production and expansion of blood stem cells (BSCs). BSCs are responsible for the constant replenishment of all different cell types found in the blood throughout one’s life, such as white blood cells, red blood cells, and blood platelets. BSC production is vital to maintain a healthy blood system and enabling life-saving treatments through BSC transplantations. However, BSC transplantations are not always an option because there are not enough compatible donors available. To circumvent this problem, researchers are trying to produce BSCs in a dish in the laboratory. Yet, much remains to be learned about the generation and growth of these cells. One of the major limitations is the lack of appropriate laboratory models. Currently, researchers study the natural birth of BSCs, which initially occurs during embryonic development, within the aorta of the developing embryo. Such research is complicated and relies on the use and availability of animals.

BSC mini-factories

The ZonMw grant enables the collaboration between the research groups of Catherine Robin and Riccardo Levato to overcome this obstacle. They will use an innovative 3-dimensional bioprinting technology to print miniature artificial replicas of the native birthplace of BSCs, the embryonic aorta. Robin says: “We could use this 3D model to explore how blood flow, environmental cues, and various aorta shapes influence BSC production. Our work could form the foundation for ground-breaking discoveries and ultimately aid in generating BSCs in our 3D mini-factories”.

About the ZonMw Open Competition grant

The ZonMw Open Competition grant is intended to promote innovative and curiosity-driven team science that leads to groundbreaking science of exceptional quality in the field of health research. A total of 29 grants (out of 116 applications) were awarded this year.

Image Catherine Robin



Catherine Robin is group leader at the Hubrecht Institute and is also affiliated with the UMC Utrecht.