Anglo-Dutch research teams awarded Eurostars funding for a €1.1M project

Researchers at Maastricht University, Noviocell BV and Cell Guidance Systems Ltd are collaborating on an EU funded Eurostars project to develop fully-defined matrices for the 3D culture of organoids.

Organoids are small 3-D bundles of cells that mimic functionality of tissues. Compared to 2D culture, they more closely model tissue function. Organoids are widely seen as the future of 3D cell culture, and are transforming healthcare by enabling more accurate prediction of the potential of new drugs. However, with a lack of optimal 3D scaffolds, which are used to support the 3D structure, the use of organoids is limited. The most widely used scaffold currently used is an undefined extract of mouse tumour cells. 

The new research project, being announced today, will combine two technologies to create and validate a new functional hydrogel for organoids. The aim is to create a fully defined hydrogel containing defined growth factors in a slow release formulation that will be the first 3D platform to create a truly biomimetic cellular microenvironment. Scientists at Maastricht University will test the functional hydrogel in their culture system of pancreatic organoids.

At the heart of the collaboration is Noviocell’s hydrogel technology, first reported in Nature, which is chemically synthetic, can be fine-tuned to modulate elasticity and can rapidly transition from a liquid to a solid simply by increasing temperature. This hydrogel is being combined with Cell Guidance Systems patented PODS™ technology which generates protein co-crystals (containing two proteins) inside insect cells: One protein drives the formation of an excipient crystal and the other cargo protein is encased and can then be sustainably delivered.

Dr Juliette van den Dolder, CEO of Noviocell, commented: “Polyisocyanopeptide (PIC) hydrogel technology is being developed for a wide variety of applications. PIC hydrogels uniquely perform like collagen (natural biomaterial, excellent biomimetic of extracellular matrix) and can be modified to represent cellular environments of varying stiffness. They are fully reversible (when changing the temperature), thus cells can be easy recovered and downstream processing after culturing is straightforward (e.g. easy to image cells). Furthermore, they can be easily functionalised to meet the needs of every cell type and of every researcher, by adding peptide sequences (e.g. RGD peptide for better cell adhesion) or growth factors and finally, they are synthetic with unique biocompatibility and therefore can be used for in vivo purposes (e.g. regenerative medicine).”

Dr Sander Rensen and Prof. Steven Olde Damink, Maastricht University, commented: “Applying this functional hydrogel will strongly improve our efficiency in generating organoids from patient-derived tumour cells. More importantly, it will also promote the maintenance of the original in vivo pathophysiological behaviour of these cells. This greatly facilitates the identification of mechanisms underlying the effect of pancreatic tumour cells on cachexia, a wasting syndrome that diminishes body weight and function, and that is the focus of our research.“

Dr Michael Jones, CEO of Cell Guidance Systems commented: “PODS™ technology is being developed for a wide variety of applications including therapies of osteoarthritis, Parkinson’s disease and the production of cold-chain independent vaccines. Our involvement in this project and the funding we receive from Eurostars will allow us to test the full in-vitro potential of the technology.”

Cell Guidance Systems is a UK biotechnology company. Its principal research focus is on the PODS™ protein technology platform which utilizes a patented technology to produce polyhedrin crystals containing constrained target proteins. This production process results in proteins with significantly enhanced stability in storage and sustained release profiles. Working in collaboration with world-class research institutes and with other companies, Cell Guidance Systems is developing PODS™ proteins for use as research reagents, therapeutics in regenerative medicine and as cold chain independent vaccines.

Noviocell BV is a Dutch biotechnology company. Noviocell BV aims to become a global leader in 3D cell culturing by providing a ground-breaking hydrogel technology that will revolutionise the stem cell research fields, make organoids suitable for industrial applications and provide unique solutions for regenerative medicine. Noviocell will build upon its proprietary PIC hydrogels and develop them into easy-to-use solutions for biomedical researchers, biotech and pharma industry and clinicians.