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Professor Milica Radisic (BME, ChemE) will begin working with Dr. Ulrike Nuber from the Technical University of Darmstadt in Germany on organ-on-a-chip technology. (Photo: Submitted)

Professor Milica Radisic (BME, ChemE) has been awarded a 2023 Humboldt Research Award from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation.  

Named for the famed naturalist, explorer and patron, the award honours the academic achievements of internationally recognized scientists and scholars from outside of Germany. Award winners are also invited to carry out their own research project in Germany for six months to an entire year, and they receive 60,000 euros, which can be used to fund the project and travel.  

“This is a huge honour. The award is one of the most prestigious international recognitions a scientist can get,” say Radisic, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Organ-on-a-Chip Engineering.   

“I am especially thankful to Dr. Ulrike Nuber from the Technical University of Darmstadt for nominating me.”  

A leading expert in bioengineering human tissues and the design of microfluidic chips, Radisic will begin working with Nuber next year at her lab at Darmstadt, which focuses on creating disease models from human induced pluripotent stem cells. 

Together, they will partner with researchers at Charité, the Berlin University of Medicine, to develop a vascularized organ-on-a-chip model. 

The goal is to create an integrated system with multiple microscale cellular environments that can be designed to simulate the systematic function of the human body.  

“With human induced pluripotent stem cells, we can grow cells for any part of the body. By combining these organoids with organ-on-a-chip technologies, we can learn more about the function of human organs without having to touch a patient or use animal models to replicate diseases,” says Radisic.  

“This opportunity will allow me and my colleagues from the Centre for Research and Applications in Fluidic Technologies (CRAFT) to build a bridge across the Atlantic and connect with our colleagues from Germany, who have really interesting ideas about the role of endothelial cells and endothelial dysfunction in creating multi-organ failure.”   

The researchers will use healthy endothelial cells and sick endothelial cells to understand the sequence of events that lead to multi-organ failure. They hope to resolve long-standing questions, such as whether endothelium damage leads to organ damage, or whether the causation runs the other way around.  

The researchers also want to know how the endothelial cells are secreting, reacting and communicating disease signals during this process.  

“Organ-on-chip technology can really change the way we think about disease by looking at it in a more holistic way,” says Radisic.  

This international collaboration will have additional benefits for Radisic’s students, who will have opportunities to participate in exchanges through the lab partnerships she is forming.  

At the completion of her time in Germany, Radisic can also apply for additional funding to bring postdoctoral fellows from Germany to the University of Toronto to work at CRAFT.  

“I am looking forward to getting started,” she says. “I will be attending the Humboldt Foundation award symposium early next year, and visiting my host, Dr. Nuber in Darmstadt so we can start working on establishing organ-on-the-chip engineering over there.” 

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