Hedwig Kruitwagen, DVM, PhD, obtained her veterinary degree in 2010 from the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Utrecht University, the Netherlands. She then enrolled in a postgraduate research project on liver stem cell biology and liver regeneration in dogs, cats and humans. In the prof. Rothuizen lab of the Department of Clinical Sciences, immunohistochemical studies were performed in liver specimens to investigate the liver stem cell niche in health and disease. Furthermore, she studied key signals that induce liver stem cell proliferation using an siRNA-based kinome screen.
In the following years, Hedwig became involved in establishing organoid cultures from canine and feline liver (Nantasanti et al. 2015; Kruitwagen et al. 2017). Organoids are defined as ‘structures resembling an organ’ and are a 3D adult stem cell culture system developed in the lab of Hans Clevers (Hubrecht Institute). This provided a unique opportunity to explore the use of cultured liver stem cells for disease-modeling purposes as well as in clinical applications for patients with liver disease. She obtained her PhD in 2017 and continued her work as a post-doctoral researcher.
A collaborative project with the Department of Biochemistry was started on feline liver organoids and their ability to model lipid storage disease. Several drug candidates were assayed for their effect in lowering intracellular triacylglycerol-content. This lead to the discovery of potential new drugs to treat feline hepatic lipidosis (Haaker and Kruitwagen et al. 2019). Additionally, Hedwig designed and performed a transplantation study of autologous canine liver organoids in experimental dogs with copper storage disease based on a genetic COMMD1 deficiency. Stem cells were cultured from a liver biopsy, subjected to gene correction, expanded in vitro as organoids and subsequently transplanted via a vascular access port system in the portal vein to engraft in the liver (Kruitwagen et al. 2020). An important focus in all research projects is translational medicine, both from bench to bedside as well as between veterinary and human medicine.
After several years in research she returned to the clinic in 2018 and performed a rotating internship. Currently, she is a resident in Internal Medicine at the Utrecht University Clinic for Companion Animals.
Hedwig lives in a very small village close to Utrecht with her husband and three children.