In the early 1990s, van Blitterswijk was one of a small group of scientists worldwide who was beginning to realize that biomaterials could be used to induce the body’s cells to heal damaged tissues. These discoveries formed the basis for a new field called tissue engineering, which aims to replace or regenerate diseased or damaged tissues through a combination of biology and engineering. Van Blitterswijk is widely considered to be the founder of tissue engineering in Europe.
In the next period, which began around 2009, van Blitterswijk set up and assumed the directorship of the MIRA Institute at the University of Twente. Under his guidance, the growing field of tissue engineering had shifted from trial-and-error approaches to more knowledge-based systematic discoveries. While van Blitterswijk has always been an early adopter of new technology, he emphasized and developed his own technological innovations during this stage. In doing so, he pushed the entire tissue engineering field to consider the role of technology in their research.
In 2014, Van Blitterswijk moved his group to Maastricht University where he founded the MERLN Institute for Technology-Inspired Regenerative Medicine, an endeavour funded by the Dutch province of Limburg (LINK, Limburg Investeert in haar Kenniseconomie). Under his guidance, MERLN expanded and became a successful institute that performs cutting-edge science and has built up an excellent regional, national and international reputation. In 2019, Prof. Pamela Habibovic became the new director of MERLN, but Van Blitterswijk has continued to serve as a principal investigator and scientific advisor.
Representation of a blastoïd, a synthetic embryo created from stem cells at the MERLN Institute.
(Copyright: Nicolas Rivron)
Today, van Blitterswijk is more than ever oriented towards the future, but is also returning to his scientific origins as a cell biologist, bringing the technology he has developed into research on (stem) cells in regenerative medicine and tissue engineering. He is increasingly taking on high-risk, high-reward projects to advance tissue engineering to its next generation of innovation and breakthroughs. For example, he conceived an in vitro platform to generate so-called artificial blastocysts by mimicking the development of a mouse embryo and harnessing the power of cell self-organization, for which he was awarded the ERC Advanced grant in 2015. He is undertaking an ambitious, 10-year project for the rational design of biomaterials for regenerative medicine under a Gravitation grant awarded in 2017. Additionally, he founded and is leading an international consortium (Regenerative Medicine Crossing Borders; RegMed XB) aiming to bring multiple cures for chronic diseases to patients in the next ten years.
For his scientific work, van Blitterswijk has received a number of prestigious international awards including the George Winter award of the European society for Biomaterials, the Career Achievement Award of the Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine International Society, and election as a member of the KNAW. Clemens van Blitterswijk graduated as cell biologist at Leiden University in 1982 and defended his PhD thesis in 1985 at the same university. Today most of his research focuses on tissue engineering and regenerative medicine, forming a unique basis of multidisciplinary research between materials and life sciences. Van Blitterswijk has authored and co-authored more than 380 peer reviewed papers (H index 72, Scopus); he is one of the most freqently cited Dutch scientists in Materials Science; he is the applicant and co-applicant of over 100 patents; he has guided 50 PhD candidates through their thesis as supervisor or co-supervisor and currently has 30 PhD candidates under his supervision.
Van Blitterswijk has acted on numerous national and international advisory boards relating directly to either life and material sciences or to the economic applications thereof. He has held various positions in these organizations including chairman of the Dutch Society for Biomaterials, treasurer of the European Society for Biomaterials, and council member of TERMIS (Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine International Society). During his career, he has co-founded multiple biomedical companies and held several functions in these organizations. Today, he combines his Professorship at Maastricht with a Founding Partnership of the new LSP-Health Economics Fund (LSP-HEF) of the European health care investment group Life Sciences Partners (LSP).