Hans Clevers obtained his MD degree in 1984 and his PhD degree in 1985 from the University Utrecht, the Netherlands. His postdoctoral work (1986-1989) was done with Cox Terhorst at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute of the Harvard University, Boston, USA. ..... READ MORE
From 1991-2002 Hans Clevers was Professor in Immunology at the University Utrecht and, since 2002, Professor in Molecular Genetics. From 2002-2012 he was director of the Hubrecht Institute in Utrecht. From 2012-2015 he was President of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW). From 2015 - June 2019 he was Director Research of the Princess Maxima Center for pediatric oncology. He continues to run his lab in the Hubrecht Institute.
Throughout his career, he has worked on the role of Wnt signalling in stem cells and cancer. His discoveries include TCF as the nuclear Wnt effector, the role of Wnt in adult stem cell biology and of Wnt pathway mutations in colon cancer, Lgr5 as a marker of multiple novel types of adult stem cells and as receptor for the Wnt-amplifying R-spondins, and –finally- a method to grow ever-expanding mini-organs (‘organoids’) from Lgr5 stem cells derived from a range of healthy or diseased human tissues. This has led to over 750 publications and >90,000 citations.
Hans Clevers is member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (2000), of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2012) and the National Academy of Sciences of the USA (2014), the Academie des Sciences (2016) and the Orden pour le Merite der Wisschschaften und Kuenste (2017).
He is the recipient of multiple awards, including the Dutch Spinoza Award in 2001, the Swiss Louis Jeantet Prize in 2004, the German Meyenburg Cancer Research Award in 2008, the German Ernst Jung-Preis für Medizin in 2011, the French Association pour la Recherche sur le Cancer (ARC) Léopold Griffuel Prize, the Heineken Prize (2012), the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences (2013), the 2015 ISSCR McEwen Award for Innovation and the Academy Professor Prize (2015), and the Körber European Science Prize (2016).
He is Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur since 2005, Knight in the Order of the Netherlands Lion since 2012 and German prize.
Stem cells are the foundation of all mammalian life. Stem cells build and maintain our bodies throughout life. Two types of stem cells are discerned.
1) Embryonic stem cells (ES cells) are briefly present in the early human or mouse embryo, a few days after fertilization. These ES cells can be grown indefinitely in the lab and have the potential to build each and every tissue in our body. Because of this ‘pluripotency’, ES cells hold great promise for therapeutic application in the field of regenerative medicine. It is also possible to take skin cells (or other cells) from adults and convert these in the lab into cells with ES properties, so called iPS cells. Many of the hurdles that ES cell technology have faced, do not exist for iPS cells.
2) Adult stem cells. Every organ in our body is believed to harbor its own dedicated stem cells. These adult stem cells replace tissue that is lost due to wear and tear, trauma and disease. Adult stem cells are highly specialized and can only produce the tissue in which they reside; they are ‘multipotent’. Examples are bone marrow stem cells that make all blood cells, skin stem cells and gut stem cells. Even the brain is now known to harbor its specialized stem cells. The adult stem cells allow us to live 80-90 years, but this comes at a cost: they are the cells that most easily transform into cancer cells.
Both types of stem cells can be used to establish ‘organoids’, 3D structures established in a dish, that recapitulate many aspects of the organ they represent. Pluripotent stem cells can be taken through the developmental steps that establish organs during embryogenesis. This has worked particularly well for parts of the the central nervous system, the kidney and GI organs. We have shown that adult epithelial stem cells carrying the generic Lgr5 marker can be cultured under tissue-repair conditions and generate epithelial organoids directly from healthy and diseased organs such as the gut, the liver, the lung and the pancreas. Organoid technology opens a range of avenues for the study of development, physiology and disease, for drug development and for personalized medicine. In the long run, cultured mini-organs may replace transplant organs from donors and hold promise in gene therapy.