Portrait and video Gerjo van Osch: “This chair gives me an extra push”

Thursday, January 13, 2022

For patients with damaged cartilage, there is often no good treatment available at the moment. Professor Gerjo van Osch is looking for methods to repair that damaged cartilage. She is a professor at Erasmus MC and, thanks to Medical Delta, now also at TU Delft. "I feel responsible that things are done in collaboration," she says.

"Ever since my graduation I have been working with other disciplines and other universities," Van Osch explains. "Through Medical Delta I also work with TU Delft now, which offers a lot of opportunities. I can access new technologies, work with other people and gain new insights." 

In the video below, Gerjo van Osch tells about her Medical Delta professorship:


"This chair gives me an extra push. I feel responsible for making things happen together. For example, I have ten ideas for applying for external funding and I am now more likely to choose something that ties in with Medical Delta. I also have a bridging function between TU Delft and Erasmus MC. When someone from Delft asks me for help or asks if I know someone in Rotterdam who can help them, I feel that this is my role and I put more effort into it."

What does the collaboration with TU Delft look like?

"I do cell biological research on cartilage; I look at how cells react to the environment, to damage and to treatments. Cartilage is a tissue with an important mechanical function, and it is the mechanical part that I know less about. I used to work on this with someone from Switzerland who later moved to Australia. That went well, but Delft is really much closer. It is easier to keep in touch and we now have joint students.

I also work on methods for regenerating cartilage. One example of what Delft has to offer in this respect is 3D printing technology. This allows you to make more beautiful models and better grafts. Some UMCs choose to acquire it themselves, but I think it is best to do this in a technically driven environment. You have a certain expertise, and of course you can supplement that with new expertise, but it is better and more fun to work with other specialists. I am now part of the faculty of Mechanical Engineering, Maritime Technology & Engineering Materials Science (3mE) at TU Delft, where there is knowledge and technology that I can really use to solve the questions I have.

I have always worked on biomechanics, but after my studies I turned entirely towards biology. Now I am back with biomechanics and it feels like things have come full circle."

What will a patient notice from these collaborations?

"I hope that in ten years' time we will be a step further in the treatment of cartilage problems. For cartilage defects caused by trauma, treatments do exist at the moment, but they are certainly not perfect. And for a degenerative disorder such as osteoarthritis, there is nothing yet. Osteoarthritis is a complex disease that also affects the surrounding cartilage and we still know too little about how it works.

There are two directions for the solution. The first is to repair the tissue. 3D printing can contribute to this, with better biomaterials that connect to the body's cells and stimulate the body to repair. The second is to understand how osteoarthritis works and determine what is best for a patient. Once we have more insight into this, we can intervene much earlier and prevent or delay damage. For example, we will be able to better advise patients on how best to use and strain cartilage best. To do this, you have to look at the cell and tissue level to see what happens when you put a load on cartilage and translate that into what is optimal for an individual. I work together with Medical Delta professor Jaap Harlaar, among others, on this."

How do you see the future of Medical Delta?

"It is quite special that in a small region, in one province, there are three cities with large university centres. And a lot of economic activity as well. This offers many opportunities. Collaborations such as those that take place within the Medical Delta will therefore become increasingly important. By sharing appealing examples of innovation, it will become more and more attractive for others to participate as well. People need to see the benefits of collaboration. By showing successes, more companies will also join in. There is still growth there.

We will not merge into a large university. You shouldn't do that. It is good to retain your own culture, where you feel at home. Otherwise, it will become something big and abstract and you will never meet the board again, so to speak."

What is your advice for successful cooperation?

"You shouldn't start collaborating if you expect a quick solution. Collaborating with other disciplines takes time and effort. You have to be able to put yourself in the shoes of the other person and see why they do certain things. Everyone has their own way of thinking and their own wishes, make sure you get to know and understand them. Ask yourself why someone else would do something for you; not only among institutions, but also in the same organisation between disciplines. A biologist and a clinician here at Erasmus MC, for example.

A cooperation should bring something to both parties, you have to look for a common interest and you have to be willing to do something for each other. Sometimes you do something for someone else that is of no use to you at the time, but that will benefit you at a later stage. Finally, you have to be able to enjoy the process of working together, otherwise it won't work well."

Which other researcher have you been surprised by?

"When I look at TU Delft, I think Amir Zadpoor is special. He is smart, switches quickly and thinks in big steps. Another example is Gijsje Koenderink, she has a lot of substantive and technical knowledge and a good approach to conducting research. But actually I am constantly surprised. I like that too. If you don't learn from someone else, there is no point in working together. I am happy to learn a lot from all the people I work with."

This article is part of a series in which we highlight the nine new Medical Delta professors. Click here for the other portraits that have been published so far. Gerjo van Osch's research contributes to the scientific programme Medical Delta Regenerative Medicine 4D: Generating complex tissues with stem cells and printing technology.

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