The work of the Institute of Human Biology (IHB) centres around research into human model systems. These are tiny, lifelike replicas of human organs and tissues. They are made from human stem cells and enable us to better understand how the body works. Compared to animal testing, they reflect human biology more closely, helping us to gain new insights into health and disease. Our goal is for this to make drugs safer and available more quickly.
The IHB is headed by Matthias Lütolf, a Roche scientist and a leading researcher of international renown in the field of stem cell bioengineering, tissue engineering and organoid technology. He answered three questions about the establishment of the institute:
For me, the foundations have been laid by the outstanding employees who have already joined us and are contributing to a wonderful culture of innovation here. In addition, we are creating a unique international science centre for a relatively new field of research that is now ready to have a decisive influence on drug development. We bring together scientists and bioengineers from the academic and pharmaceutical worlds who are dealing with some really interesting scientific and technical challenges. For example, the question of how to create a human model in a cell culture dish for a disease that cannot be mapped in an animal model.
As far as I know, there is no other institute in the world that offers this seamless integration of academic and pharmaceutical research and development. Traditionally, these two worlds are often separated. In this way, we can help to bring medical progress to the patients more quickly and at the same time further reduce the number of animal experiments.
First of all, we have a direct line to the Roche researchers on site. We can meet regularly, collaborate closely and benefit from the company’s enormous expertise in disease biology and the implementation of science in treatments. It is also helpful to be part of the state-of-the-art infrastructure that Roche has in place in Basel. Another crucial factor is that Basel is a hub for life sciences, in particular for the areas of human biology, human model systems and bioengineering that are relevant to the IHB. With the Department of Biosystems Science and Engineering (BSSE) of ETH Zurich here in Basel, the Biozentrum, the University of Basel, the Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research (FMI), the Institute of Molecular and Clinical Ophthalmology Basel (IOB) and the Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area, we have many world-class research centres nearby. We benefit enormously from this life science cluster.
Of course I am somewhat biased, but I believe that organoids fall into the category of groundbreaking and “Nobel Prize-worthy” discoveries in terms of their far-reaching implications for biology and medicine in the future. Organoids have not only changed our understanding of how cells communicate with each other to build tissues and organs; they have also created new approaches to disease research, drug discovery and development, and disease diagnosis.
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