BIRDIE Voices: Sveva Fagiolino

In a series of articles we will present some of the people that make up the Birdie consortium, each representing a unique perspective on the project and its goals. First out is Sveva Fagiolino who’s work as a PhD student in the Additive Manufacturing and Bioprinting group at Maastrich University is focused on differentiating induced pluripotent stem cells* (IPSC) into the two kidney progenitors metanephric mesenchyme* and ureteric bud*, which will be used in the Birdie project to mimic the kidney function.

– We would like to bring these two progenitors together to see how they interact and how we can further differentiate our IPSCs so that we can increase their functionality to enable nephrotoxicity testing, Sveva explains.

The idea, Sveva describes, is to bioprint both kidney progenitor structures into an organ-on-chip platform developed in the project and combine them with other cell types to make the model more like the in vivo system.

Working with stem cells is interesting for several different reasons, Sveva explains. The ability to differentiate them into different cell types means that you can use them to create many different research model, but they also have interesting applications within precision medicine where treatments can be tailored to an individual patient.

– This is something very important if we think about nephrotoxicity, since we all at some point need to take some kind of drug, and the older we get the more drugs we tend to need. Therefore, having a system that can be tailored to an individual patient is important since it can help us to know in advance which drugs could have a negative effect for that specific patient.

– In that sense, IPSC are extremely useful and definitely a better in vitro system compared to animal models, which can be very useful, but which unfortunately are not always reliable and predictive.

Being able to contribute to new and more reliable ways to study diseases or the effect that drugs have on our kidney really motivates me.

Before she started her position at Maastricht University in April this year, Sveva was a Master’s student at King’s College in London, where she was involved in a tissue engineering project centered around the liver. This experience gave her a new perspective on biology research and sparked her interest interest in tissue engineering and regenerative medicine.

– When I saw the open PhD position in Maastricht for the Birdie project, I applied because it was an opportunity to do new things. I get to combine working with cells and do a lot of bioprinting, which is very, very cool and something that I wanted to learn.

What attracted Sveva to the project was the ability to work in a multidisciplinary environment that combines perspectives from biology, technology, bioprinting and organ-on-chip techniques and being able to see how all of this develops over time.

– Coming from biology, coming in contact with engineering perspectives opens up a new world; learning about material synthesis and how my cells will behave in new materials. That is a nice thing about this project, you never stop learning.

No matter how intriguing it is, it is not only the practical research, staying in the lab and working with cells, that motivates Sveva, it is also the bigger picture in which the pieces she contributes are a part of and what they can lead to in the future.

– Nephrotoxicity and chronic kidney disease are something that affects a lot of people. And even if you can contribute only a tiny bit to develop the research to have a more reliable and useful platform to study this pathology evolves or to having better tools to study the effect that drugs have on us and our kidney, that really motivates me. It is something real.

Read more about the research performed in the Birdie project here.

Induced pluripotent stem cells A type of stem cell that is generated directly from a somatic cell. Pluripotant stem cells are interesting for research and medical applications since the can be differentiated into any type of cell in the body.

Metanephric mesenchyme One of the embryonic structures that gives rise to the kidney. The metanephric mesenchyme primarily develops into nephrons, which is the microscopic biological structure responsible for the kidney function.

Ureteric bud A protrusion of the mesonephric duct that appears during the embryological development of urogenital organs. It will eventually form the urinary collecting system of the kidney.