Scientific Research Institutes > University Institutes > Experimental and Clinical Cell Therapy

Institute for Experimental and Clinical Cell Therapy

Director: Univ.-Prof. Dr. Dirk Strunk

The regenerative stem cell therapy is one of the most promising strategies of modern medicine. At the Institute for Experimental and Clinical Cell Therapy (ExCT), we study key mechanisms of organ and tissue regeneration:

Organ stem cells

The stem cells can simultaneously self-renew and generate proliferating progenitor cells by asymmetric cell division. They thereby contribute to structural repair of their corresponding organ after an injury while maintaining a resident stem cell pool. We analyze multi-potent mesenchymal stem/progenitor cells (MSCs) and endothelial colony-forming progenitor cells (ECFCs) from blood, bone marrow, adipose tissues and umbilical cord/blood in order to better understand and utilize the mechanisms of "self-renewal". We study induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) differentiation and function towards development of new therapies for better regeneration.


Stem cells circulating within peripheral blood are considered to support the regeneration of damaged tissue. We investigate the mechanisms of mobilization (drug- or stress-induced enhanced stem cell circulation). The sensitivity of our "Flow Cytometry" is currently at about 0.001 per cent (corresponding to a detection limit of 50-100 stem cells/mL of blood or tissue).


The incomplete regeneration of damaged organs or tissue (including the immune system) may be compensated by stem cell transplantation. So far, the transplantation of blood-forming (haematopoietic) stem cells/progenitor cells (HSPCs) is the only clinically proven successful stem cell therapy. We develop new efficient GMP-compliant protocols for pre-clinical animal serum-free production (with human platelet lysate, HPL) and differentiation of stem cells for therapeutic application in prospective randomized clinical trials.


Oxygen: Redirecting stem cells to their niche

Stem cells can be mobilized from their respective niche by stress or other instructive signals. They can display surface molecules (homing receptors) which permit migration to a wound region or return to their original location. Currently, it is considered that the dormant stem cells reside in an environment with reduced oxygen supply (hypoxia). We study the role of the hypoxia-inducible transcription factors (HIFs) and the regulation of HIF through various stimuli as well as their effect on stem cell homing.

Small molecules: Pluripotency and multipotent adult stem cells

At present it is not completely clear whether stem cells with limited functioning potential (e.g. multi-potent stem cells, which are developing into three or more tissue cell types) or universal pluripotent stem cells (which could renew practically all tissue cell types) can be applied reliably in clinical medicine. In addition to optimizing protocols for direct application of only minimally manipulated adult stem cells, we also develop experimental methods to extend the potency of stem cells (by small molecules) and induced reprogramming (using iPSCs).

Platelet derived growth factors: Mechanisms of bone formation

Platelet-derived growth factors (PDGFs) play an important role in regeneration (wound-healing, tissue homeostasis) as well as in the regulation of biology and function of stem cells. A more precise understanding of the regulatory mechanisms underlying homeostasis and regeneration is urgently needed to be able to use these factors clinically, in a targeted manner, in regenerative medicine. Based on experimental data about stem cell propagation under the aegis of platelet lysate, the PDGF-dependent mechanisms of bone regeneration are currently studied in detail.

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