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Local Training Network on REgenerative medicine and Stem Cell technology in UtrEcht

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - RESCUE (Local Training Network on REgenerative medicine and Stem Cell technology in UtrEcht)

Reporting period: 2018-06-01 to 2020-05-31

With an aging population and rising healthcare costs, the need for organs, tissues and personalized strategies in medicine has never been greater. Recent developments in medical technologies such as 3D-bioprinting, stem cell therapy and gene editing hold the promise to provide tissues for transplantation, tailor-made medical solutions and opportunities to help the body repair and regenerate itself. However, our understanding of the fundamentals of cell, tissue and organ regeneration and their potential application for therapeutic purposes are still in its infancy. For Regenerative Medicine to fully capture its potential, a synergistic and multidisciplinary effort remains necessary to achieve essential scientific breakthroughs.
Together the University Medical Center Utrecht (coordinator), the University Utrecht and the Hubrecht Institute appointed 29 international PhD positions on REgenerative Medicine & Stem Cells in UtrEcht. All positions, fully funded for four years, are located within the Regenerative Medicine Centre Utrecht, the Netherlands, within the EC H2020 Marie S. Curie COFUND doctorate project RESCUE. This unique international doctorate programme aims to enhance the potential and future career perspectives of these excellent early stage researchers by providing a global training network including over 50 excellent academic and industrial partner organizations. This training creates a new generation of research experts, empowering the fellows to drive regenerative medicine research towards valuable new applications in medicine and take leading positions in the field of Regenerative Medicine world-wide.
The work carried out during the first 24 months of the project are to a great extent in line with Annex 1 of the Grant Agreement. Within this first project period we aimed for a smooth functioning of the management of the project. The utmost care and attention was made to have open, transparent, impartial, merit-based and equitable selection and evaluation procedures, and to select the most excellent, talented and highly motivated eligible Early Stage Researchers (ESRs). In total there were four recruitment calls for proposals to fill all available positions. Per vacancy there were on average 48 number of applications. The successful appointed ESRs have begun their research and training, with the appropriate supervision, which is captured in the university-wide PhD-candidate tracking system MyPhD. All required ethical approvals and authorisations are obtained and kept on file. The research that is and will be conducted is in compliance with the ethical principles and applicable international, EU and national law under H2020. Next to the Regenerative Medicine PhD school courses, like Intro to RM and intro to Stem Cells, Perspectives in RM, Bench to Bedside and PhD retreats, the RESCUE project has organised several other workshops and courses. These included e.g. the introduction to the RESCUE project, living and working in the Netherlands by the SME Talent4NL, Dutch language, FAIR Data Management and an entrepreneurial education workshop titled ‘The importance and outcomes of Early Clinical Evaluation’. RM Utrecht organised a symposium to celebrate the start of the RESCUE-COFUND doctorate programme with the new ESRs and also to welcome RM colleagues of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine (including RESCUE students and PIs) to the RMU/Hubrecht building.
The first peer-reviewed papers have been published, master students were supervised, presentations were given to the scientific and clinical community, but also to the general public, including high school students. Some projects have been upgraded to proof-of-concept, a provisional EU patent application was filed and a few secondments have already been performed at our Partner Organisations.
Research done in this project on Regenerative Medicine is for the most part lab-based. Due to the COVID-19 lock-down laboratories were closed for three months and also clinical research could not be performed. Resuming and scaling up research activities was done carefully under strict conditions, following specific requirements. The fellows teleworked from home, worked on their admin, papers, planning, online courses and other tasks, but the impact due to the closure of the labs, postponement of courses and diminished mobility opportunities is substantial.
RESCUE strengthens the local Regenerative Medicine Utrecht networks and increases the international profile of the University Medical Centre Utrecht, Utrecht University and Hubrecht Institute in the field of Regenerative Medicine (RM). The long-term ambition of RESCUE is to establish a strong and coherent network that connects highly skilled young researchers as well as established scientists, who will continue to inspire each other to excel in making discoveries in regenerative medicine and stem cell biology far beyond the funding period.
All recruited and appointed Early Stage Researchers (ESRs) have their own research project and all have joined the Regenerative Medicine PhD Programme Utrecht within the Graduate School of Life Sciences, which is interdisciplinary and cross-faculty. Regenerative Medicine is a dynamic field that brings together fundamental and clinical scientists from many disciplines with the aim of developing novel therapeutic strategies for a wide variety of diseases. The multidisciplinary nature of this field accounts for the involvement of several institutes, and covers a variety of enabling technologies and clinical application areas, such as stem cell-based treatment and regeneration of tissue types and organs. A unique hallmark of Regenerative Medicine Utrecht is the integrated approach in which basic scientists and clinicians from both human and veterinary medicine work side-by-side.
With the entrepreneurial workshop ‘the importance and outcomes of Early Clinical Evaluation’ given by the UMCU in partnership with The Healthcare Innovation Center in Utrecht (THINC.) and the Erasmus+ GROWTH project for Entrepreneurial Education, the ESRs were challenged to think in an early stage of their research about the possible clinical relevance, impact and usability of their research. What is needed in the planning, set-up and execution of their research to be able to make the biggest impact in healthcare later on.
This is an excellent example how the ESRs are trained for a future both inside and outside academia. The RESCUE programme manages researchers, not only research.