Interview with Head of Research Prof. Benjamin Dekel
On a mission to repair, replace, regenerate, and restore
What is Regenerative Medicine?
I am often asked what is meant by the term "regenerative medicine." In simple terms, regenerative medicine is an interdisciplinary field focused on repairing, replacing, regenerating, and restoring functions of human cells, tissues, and organs.
Regenerative medicine therapies can involve the administration of cells, biomaterials, or biomolecules. For example, the injection of regenerative cells or the implantation of cellular biomaterial scaffolds for stimulating endogenous tissue repair. Using integrated approaches and methods provide opportunities for developing novel therapies to regenerate damaged tissue and overcome chronic disease.
How did you become interested in regenerative medicine?
Ever since I was a student, I have been particularly fascinated by the kidney, our most complex organ. Specifically, I became interested in understanding human immune mediated kidney disease.
So, I took a piece of the human adult kidney and grafted it in mice lacking an immune system that was reconstituted with a human immune system. The idea was to study the interaction between the human kidney and the human immune system in mice. But the graft didn’t survive very well so I switched to grafting human fetal kidney tissue instead. These grafts took off and set the basis for a Nature Medicine paper where we described principles (organogenesis, immunogenicity, vascularization) of human embryonic kidney rudiment transplantation as a new source for mini-kidney organs. This was my debut in regenerative medicine as we generated new human kidney tissue. Today, one can generate fetal-like mini kidneys from pluripotent stem cells (organoids) that can be transplanted instead of directly collecting embryonic rudiments, but importantly, organoid transplantation shares the same principles we described twenty year ago.
What are you working on today?
In the field of human kidney development and pediatric kidney cancer, we pioneered the identification of human stem/progenitor cells and their use in tissue repair, regeneration, and targeted cancer therapy. Some of our research has been translated to clinical trials (second phase) for relapsing kidney cancer in children.
Moreover, my group is moving towards the translation of our basic research in renal regenerative medicine, which applies novel modalities of cellular therapies/tissue engineering with human nephron progenitors and with the regenerative biomolecules they secrete, to bedside. We recently described human urine as an important source for kidney spheroids and organoids (tiny, self-organized three-dimensional tissue cultures that are derived from stem cells) useful for regenerative medicine. This on-going effort may allow kidney patients to delay the need for dialysis and shorten the ever-growing waiting list for a kidney transplant.
Why should researchers and graduate students interested in regenerative medicine come to Tel Aviv University?
Tel Aviv University, the Sackler Faculty of Medicine and the research laboratories are considered among the most advanced in the field of regenerative medicine, with its renowned researchers and clinicians and being on the forefront of technology thanks to its young researchers who have worked in international laboratories all over the world.
Also, the TAU and especially the Sagol Center for Regenerative Medicine (SCRM) strongly believe in multidisciplinary work, which can lead to innovative ideas.
The very significant advantage for TAU and the SCRM in particular, is the close collaboration between clinical and research. The university is affiliated with the largest and most advanced hospitals in central of Israel, each of which has a skilled and professional team of clinicians and researchers. This is very helpful for the promotion of clinical development and application of regenerative medicine.