Dr. Meritxell Huch

International Awards

Hamdan Award for Medical Research Excellence - Liver Disorders
2015-2016

Personal Details/ Academic Background:

Dr. Meritxell Huch is a group leader at the Stem Cells and Tissue Regeneration Laboratory, The Gurdon Institute in the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom. Her seminal work was based on identifying stem cells in liver and pancreas and establishing organoid cultures for these tissues and for gastric stem cells.

Dr. Huch was born in 1978 in Barcelona, Spain. She obtained a Bachelor degree in Pharmaceutical Science from the University of Barcelona (UB) and continued her postgraduate studies at the same university till she was awarded her PhD from the Centre for Genomic Regulation at UB. For these studies, Dr. Huch had gained a fellowship from the Ministry of Health in Spain and then she started postdoctoral work as a Marie Curie Fellow-IEF in Hubrecht Institute for Developmental Biology and Stem Cell Research in Utrecht, the Netherlands. After that Dr. Huch moved to Cambridge in the UK to become a member of the Physiology Department, Developmental Biology and Neurosciences at the University of Cambridge. Dr. Huch is a Sir Henry Dale Wellcome Trust Fellow and before attaining her current position, she was affiliated as a group leader at The Wellcome Trust/MRC Cambridge Stem Cell Institute. Importantly. Dr. Huch has recently started to run specialist courses intended for PhD students, at both UB and Utrecht University Medical Centre.

Dr. Huch is a member of the Cambridge Stem Cell Club, an editor for the Cogent Biology as well as a reviewer for Nature and other journals.


Research and achievements:

Dr. Huch published a total of 36 articles, seven as a corresponding author. And in order to present her findings, she participated in 20 invited talks in many international conferences.

The focus of Dr. Huch’s work has been on the contribution of stem cells in regenerating adult tissues (liver and pancreas) as well as on the development of organoid cultures for these endodermal organs (stomach, liver and pancreas). She has established a new culture system that maintains the self-renewal status of liver stem cells in vitro, with the possibility of inducing differentiation towards functional liver cells by modulating key signaling pathways.

Firstly, Dr. Huch and colleagues located the specific type of stem cells responsible for this regeneration. These cells are marked by a key surface protein (Lgr5) that they share with similar stem cells in the intestine, stomach and hair follicles. Then, by isolating these cells and placing them in a culture medium with the right conditions, they were able to grow small liver organoids, which survive and expand for over a year in a laboratory environment. When implanted back into mice with liver disease they continued to grow, ameliorating the disease and extending the survival of the mice. Having further refined the process using cells from rats and dogs, Dr. Huch is now moving onto testing it with human cells, which would not only be more relevant to research into human disease, but also translate to the development of a patient's own liver tissue for transplantation.                    

It is important to note that using the liver culture system developed by Dr. Huch, it will be possible to perform certain types of medical research and drug safety experiments in vitro. This can lead to a significant reduction in using animals in labs, as researchers can test a 1000 compounds using cells that come from only one mouse.       


Awards and recognition:

Dr. Huch has been granted numerous Awards, among which are:

  1. NC3Rs International Prize. National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research in UK, for growing “mini-livers” in culture, 2014.
  2. Wellcome-Beit Prize for outstanding scientists of the year 2014, as additional recognition to the success in obtaining Trust Fellowship to become independent.

 

In recognition of her outstanding contributions to the field of liver disorders, Dr. Meritxell Huch is awarded the HAMDAN AWARD FOR MEDICAL RESEARCH EXCELLENCE for the ninth term 2015-2016.