Portrait and video Amir Zadpoor: "We aim to continue innovating technologically, but in a relevant manner"

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Within the field of medical science, there is significant interest in tissue and organ repair using biomaterials, notably in orthopedics and liver- and kidney transplantation. Professor dr. Amir Zadpoor, based at Delft University of Technology, is developing biomaterials, and engaging in 3D, 4D, and bioprinting. "Collaboration and regular contact with clinicians serve as a sanity check for all our ideas," he explains.

Amir Zadpoor holds the position of Professor of Biomaterials & Tissue Biomechanics at the TU Delft, in addition to being a Professor of Orthopedics at LUMC and one of the Scientific Leaders of the Medical Delta Regenerative Medicine 4D program. Recently, he was also appointed as a Medical Delta Professor.


You are now a Medical Delta Professor. What does this mean for you?

"It's recognition for our ongoing collaboration with LUMC and Erasmus MC. I work extensively with these two institutions, both in research and education. This appointment motivates us to expand further. We are now even more committed to the Medical Delta programs.

The 'Regenerative Medicine 4D' program plays a crucial role in our region concerning regenerative medicine (utilizing the body's self-healing capacity for new therapies). Hopefully, we can supplement this with continued support from both knowledge institutions and other organizations in the region.

I'm not sure if this appointment will change much in my daily practice. I've always been successful in finding people to collaborate with. Additionally, I've held a secondary appointment as a Professor of Orthopedics at LUMC for several years. So, while an additional appointment isn't new to me, recognition and motivation certainly are."

Could you briefly describe your expertise?

"In our group, we tackle issues related to tissue and organ damage. We do this with implants made of synthetic biomaterials or by regenerating damaged tissues and organs. For implants, we utilize 3D and 4D printing, while bioprinting is employed for regenerating living tissue or an organ. The goal is to replace damaged organs and tissues, although we're not there yet; it's our ambition.

In the future we might be able to improve organs of subpar quality with healthy cells, making them viable for transplantationWe also research how to regenerate cells for organ transplants. For instance, if you have a donor organ of subpar quality, currently, there's little that can be done. However, in the future, we might be able to improve such organs with healthy cells, making them viable for transplantation."

You collaborate extensively with other Medical Delta professors. Why is that?

"We work on several key technologies applicable to many fields. Our focus is on 3D, 4D, and bioprinting, as well as developing analytical methods to analyze organ behavior. Technology is central to our work, and other scientists can apply our findings in their respective fields."

What's it like to collaborate with someone from a medical discipline?

"It's enriching. They see things we wouldn't consider. Often, we find that the technological solutions we initially conceive don't work in practice. If you're not attentive to this, you end up with unusable technologies. We learn about practical problems and challenges from the clinical side.

The reverse can also happen. Sometimes, we've developed a particular technology without knowing it could be used for a specific clinical problem. Then, when we encounter someone with such a problem, we realize we have a technique applicable to it. But without that interaction, what we've worked on remains purely theoretical.

For us, physicians serve as messengers for patientsFor example, we developed deployable stents. These stents start very small, allowing minimally invasive placement in the body. Once in position, they can be inflated or expanded. We initially developed these stents for cardiovascular applications but later discovered they could also be effectively used in the intestines. I hadn't considered that possibility myself.

Clinicians and surgeons are crucial for us to see our technology and potential solutions from the patients' perspective. For us, physicians serve as messengers for patients."

What motivates you to collaborate with physicians?

"I want to do something useful and meaningful. Working alone, that's usually not the case. Collaboration and regular contact with clinicians serve as a sanity check for all our ideas. This is especially true in my field. I work on new technology, and the danger is developing technology for technology's sake. If you have a strong connection with your future clients or users, you can prevent that. We want to continue technological innovation but in a relevant way."

What will patients or Dutch citizens notice as because of your work and these collaborations?

"We've been working on establishing a clinical biofabrication center for some time. We aim to design and manufacture clinically applicable implants tailored to individual patients. While we haven't yet succeeded in launching it, the ambition and potential are there.

Patient-specific implants can be up to ten times more expensive than generic implants, mainly due to labor costs. In the new center, we aim to automate and streamline the process, significantly reducing costs. Currently, patient-specific implants are only used in very challenging cases, but with our new approach, many more patients can benefit.

Regenerative medicine is still somewhat distant from everyday practice, especially concerning printing tissues for transplantation; that's more of a prospect. However, we can already use tissues to evaluate the efficacy of medications. This means, for example, fewer animal experiments are needed."

How do you involve practical partners in your research?

"In many projects, we have clinicians in the user committee providing feedback. I also have contact with a clinician or someone working in a medical center almost every week. Together, we strive to develop meaningful technology.

In our research group, we also have some very basic projects where we have an application in mind, but it's not something that can be used in practice within a few years. Our ambition and intuition suggest it could be useful, inspired by collaboration and discussion with clinicians with whom we regularly interact."

What's it like to start collaborating with someone from a completely different discipline?

"I can imagine there are challenges when starting such collaborations. Technicians and clinicians speak different languages. What clinicians say isn't always clear to us, and vice versa. I've been doing this for almost fifteen years now, so it's no longer a challenge for me. I may not speak the language of clinicians, but I understand what they mean.

If you're starting anew in biomedical technology now, your position is very different from fifteen years agoI also notice that these collaborations are becoming increasingly common. Occasionally, we hear technical terms from clinicians, and sometimes we've learned some jargon from them. If you're starting anew in biomedical technology now, your position is very different from fifteen years ago."

What do you feel is lacking in collaboration within Medical Delta? What would you like to call for?

"It would be beneficial if Medical Delta focused more on the younger generation. This is happening, with initiatives like Young Medical Delta, but it could be improved. They too should have the opportunity to contribute to decisions regarding the direction of activities and funding. We're working on the future of healthcare, and we need the younger generation's input."

Whose work has surprised you in the field of science, and why?

"There are so many people I could mention. Almost every week, I meet someone who surprises me or provides a new insight. As technicians, we often don't know how things work in the clinic and what procedures are used. Many aspects of surgery, for example, can't be learned from the literature. I collaborate extensively with Medical Delta Professor Rob Nelissen from LUMC, who is a surgeon. He provides insight into the practices of the operating room. Gerald Kraan from Reinier de Graaf Hospital is another excellent example. The list is so long, but it precisely demonstrates the value of clinicians and technicians working together."

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