Regenerative Medicine Utrecht

Internships for Master students

Urethral reconstruction – de Graaf group

Experimental urology: tissue engineering for urethral reconstruction

Contact: Dr. Petra de Graaf (p.degraaf-4@umcutrecht.nl) Urology, UMC Utrecht

In the lab of Experimental Urology in the UMCU, we focus on tissue engineering of the male urethra and surrounding tissue, to use as a source in reconstruction surgery of the urethra (urethroplasty). Urethra reconstructions are performed when the urethra is blocked due to urethral stricture disease, or, when due to a congenital defect, the urethra is malformed (hypospadias). Challenges in our research are finding the right scaffold, induce regeneration of the tissue without inducing fibrosis, generating a barrier for urine and preserve erectile function of the penis.

We aim to generate in vitro a tissue engineered urethra with all the natural occurring cell layers. The corpus spongiosum is an integral part of the urethra, consisting of vascular spaces lined with endothelium, giving the tissue a spongy appearance. The function of the corpus spongiosum is protecting the urethra as a kind of air bag during sexual activity. The graft should consist of different cell layers, with urethral epithelium at the luminal side, with an intermediate layer of smooth muscle cells and a spongy basal layer of both smooth muscle cells and endothelium that provides connection to the spongious tissue surrounding the urethra, as in the native urethra.

Before we can provide the urologist with tissue engineered grafts to use in urethroplasty, much research needs to be done. We study the cells present in the urethra and surrounding tissue, how do they differ from other cell types and can these cells be generated from stem cells derived from blood, adipose tissue or urine. How do the cells communicate, which signals are important and what regulates the interaction between cells and extracellular matrix.

We are open for motivated students that are looking for internships. The advantage of joining a starting, small group is that the student is involved in all the research and closely connected to the clinicians in the team. In the laboratory, cell biological, molecular biological and biochemical techniques are standard. Furthermore we have access to advanced tissue culture techniques, advanced microscopes and a bio fabrication facility with e.g. 3D printers and expertise. Since we have a variety of research questions the techniques involved are not standard. We provide many possibilities, and we appreciate input of the students.
For further information, please contact Dr. Petra de Graaf: p.degraaf-4@umcutrecht.nl