On 11 July 2019, two majestic horse-drawn carriages entered the dome square, suggesting that it was not a day like any other.
Indeed, it has been a memorable day – of course for the people in the carriages, but also for our RMU community. On this day, not one but two newly appointed RMU professors were brought to the University Hall to hold their inaugural lectures. Prof. Björn Meij and Prof. Marianna Tryfonidou, both from the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, shared their anecdotes, passion and vision with an audience of colleagues, family and friends, who filled the entire auditorium.
Prof. Björn Meij – Science on the cutting edge
In the introduction of his talk, Prof. Björn Meij took us with him to the Alps. He showed us a picture of a beautiful, snow-covered mountain landscape, where he once stood and reflected on his life. He said that back then he reflected on the past, the present and the future – and then he did the same on the podium. Only this time, he took the audience with him on this reflective journey, entitled ‘Science on the cutting edge’.
The first protagonist of his story was Zuri, a dog with a complicated bone fracture after a terrible traffic accident. Björn and his team at the Department of Clinical Sciences of Companion Animals were confronted with this case, and one single picture of Zuri was enough to reach the audience on an emotional level. We all suffered with Björn’s canine patient, while he described the implications of the fracture, the applied surgical interventions and the subsequent revalidation procedures that Zuri had to go through. A video of Zuri running happily after another dog was truly a happy ending of this story.
Björn shared more stories about his patients, including Iza, a Siberian Husky that needed a new skull roof after removal of a benign tumor. His team was the first in Europe to implant a 3D printed skull roof in a veterinary patient that was made with the help of a CT scan. The whole story can be read here.
During his talk, Björn continuously highlighted the fact that his achievements were team effort. Thanks to the unique collaboration between Veterinary Medicine and Human Medicine at Utrecht University, their surgical experiences gained from animals will ultimately benefit both dogs and their owners. This is the concept of ‘one health – one medicine’.
Prof. Marianna Tryfonidou – Groundbreaking (re)generation
Prof. Marianna Tryfonidou showed us a picture of a girl with big glasses, a grey mouse with a big heart for animals. She was only 12 years old when she found a sick kitten that she decided to take care of. This was the moment that Marianna knew that becoming a vet was her calling – despite of the fungal infection that she and all her family members got from the kitten.
Marianna studied Veterinary Medicine in sunny Greece before the left to the Netherlands to work at the renowned Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Utrecht. In the Netherlands, she found her home, she said, and she met the most wonderful people. After curing the kitten in Greece, she started there to work on a cure for dogs. Dogs, like humans, often suffer from back pain due to worn-out intervertebral discs. Current treatments may resolve neurological deficiencies and reduce pain, but they do not lead to repair. Marianna described with expressive pictures and beautifully designed illustrations how back pain occurs and how biomaterial carriers could help in local controlled drug delivery.
To solve the problem of chronic back pain, fist in dogs and then in humans, Marianna launched a large international consortium called iPSpine, which is funded with 15 million euros from Horizon 2020. Marianna’s goal is to develop a groundbreaking cell therapy that can rejuvenate worn-out intervertebral discs. For this, she and her team will turn induced pluripotent stem cells into a cell type that can inhibit inflammation and promote regeneration. These cells can be injected into the spine with the help of biomaterial carriers that imitate the cells’ surrounding.
I was especially intrigued by Marianna’s optimism and warmness, which she expressed in many ways during her talk. She appreciates the altruistic nature of her work, where research is done not only for but also with society, and not only for animals but also for humans. Just like Björn, Marianna made the concept of ‘one health – one medicine’ her life motto.
I am convinced that the double inauguration of Prof. Björn Meij and Prof. Marianna Tryfonidou was just one of many milestones that they are able to reach. There are great times ahead for the field of regenerative medicine.
Congratulations and good luck to both of them!