Universiteit Leiden

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United States

This is an Erasmus+ International Credit Mobility project of Leiden University Medical Center with Boston Children’s Hospital in the USA.

Project details

Leiden University coordinator:

  • Leiden University Medical Center, project coordinator: Heiko Locher

Partner institution:

  • Boston Children’s Hospital (Harvard Medical School)

Type of mobility:

  • Student exchange

Project duration:

  • 2020-2023

Project summary

This exchange project will allow one PhD candidate to conduct research at the Koehler Lab at Boston Children’s Hospital, which is part of Harvard Medical School. The research in this project is in the field of Regenerative Medicine, one of the three societal outreaches of the Leiden University Medical Center (LUMC). The Koehler Lab uses the capacity of pluripotent stem cells (PSCs) in the generation of inner ear mini-organs, also known as organoids. The Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) Department of the LUMC has a similar research project, which aims to develop a model of the human inner ear that will help to improve understanding and treatment of inner ear disorders. As the researchers in the Koehler Lab are world-leading in the generation of inner ear organoids, this exchange will enable us to learn from their expertise and to use the capacity of inner ear organoids in studying these disorders. In return, the Koehler Lab will learn from our knowledge of inner ear fetal development and anatomy, which will help them to improve their inner ear organoid model. This project will accordingly initiate a long-term international partnership. 

We hope to strengthen our relationship with the Koehler Lab, which will greatly benefit our other (future) research projects. Additionally, close collaboration will help us to develop a global network in the rapidly developing research field of organoids and in the field of inner ear in vitro research. This exchange could be the start of more future collaborations between our two institutions.

Vestibular Inner-Ear-on-Chip project

The exchange project will be part of the Vestibular Inner-Ear-on-Chip project, initiated by the ENT Department of the LUMC because patients with inner ear disorders are frequently seen at the ENT and Neurology outpatient clinics and constitute a significant and increasing burden on our health care system. Additionally, this model can serve as a high throughput platform to test (new) therapeutic compounds and strategies for gene therapy. Experience and knowledge obtained during this exchange project will make an essential contribution.

The Koehler Lab’s experience in generating functional inner ear organoids is unique. Our ENT Department already collaborates with the LUMC’s human induced pluripotent stem cell (hiPSC) Hotel, a facility that offers the generation of human PSC lines using state-of-the-art reprogramming techniques. Although the hiPSC Hotel has extensive knowledge and experience with differentiation protocols to generate a wide variety of organoids, it does not have the necessary protocols for inner ear organoid differentiation and maturation. To acquire this knowledge it is therefore essential to visit the Koehler Lab to conduct this research onsite.

Why Leiden’s research is relevant for the Koehler Lab

From the perspective of the Koehler Lab, the mobility project is relevant because current research on fetal tissue at the LUMC ENT Department gives new insights into the development of the inner ear. Mimicking these insights regarding the differentiation of inner ear organoids will result in a more mature model and make it more feasible to mimic inner ear diseases. The fetal material used to generate this knowledge cannot be collected or analysed in the United States due to regulatory restrictions. This will enable the Koehler Lab to pursue its research interest in line with Harvard University’s strategy.

This project will accordingly initiate a long-term international partnership between the ENT Department of the LUMC, which is affiliated with Leiden University, and the Koehler Lab, which is affiliated with the prestigious institutions of Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School.

Internationalisation at Harvard University

Harvard University wants to attract talented students and faculty, whatever part of the world they might come from, and to empower them to pursue their teaching and research interests, wherever around the world they might lead. Over the past decade, the number of international students at Harvard University has been growing steadily, and they currently constitute 25% of all students. To quote the President of Harvard University: “Our robust commitment to internationalism is not an incidental or dispensable accessory. It is integral to all we do, in the laboratory, in the classroom, in the conference hall, in the world.” In line with this strategy, Boston Children’s Hospital established the Office of Fellowship Training to enrich its fellowship experience with training programmes, workshops and networking opportunities, providing a venue for interaction among research and clinical fellows across the hospital.

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