Hans Clevers’ stem cell technique wins 2014 Dutch National Icon competition

6 November 2014

Dutch Minister of Economic Affairs Henk Kamp today announced the four winning projects of the 'National Icon competition'. One of the winners is the stem cell technique that is being developed by Hans Clevers at the Hubrecht Institute and the Hubrecht Organoid Technology Foundation. 'Dutch National Icons' are ground-breaking, innovative projects that will help generate future prosperity and contribute to addressing global social issues.

National Icons

Hans Clevers (foto: Jussi Puikkonen)Mr Kamp began the search for National Icons on 31 March, acting on behalf of the Dutch Government. A panel of judges chaired by Hans Wijers, former Minister of  Economic Affairs, reviewed the 165 projects submitted. Based on the jury’s recommendation, the Government selected four icons in three categories: 'R&D breakthrough technology’, ‘industrial innovation’ and 'inventor'. In addition to the research being conducted by Clevers’ group, the quantum computer project headed by Academy member Leo Kouwenhoven has also been awarded the National Icon title. 

By organising the National Icon Competition, the Dutch Government aims to inspire the Netherlands to keep innovating and to show the world in which areas it excels. The Government helps the National Icons achieve their ambitions and offers them an international platform. Each one is assigned a minister to serve as an ambassador for the project. His Majesty King Willem-Alexander attended the presentation ceremony in The Hague. 

The winning research

Hans Clevers’ research group studies sick and healthy stem cells. Clevers has discovered that there are numerous similarities between the normal process whereby intestinal tissue is renewed and the development of intestinal cancer. Improved understanding of these processes is crucial to developing new ways of treating cancer. Clevers discovered a protein specific to stem cells, both in the intestines and in numerous other organs. He subsequently succeeded in growing mini-organs (referred to as ‘organoids’) from individual stem cells taken from these organs. The Hubrecht Organoid Technology Foundation was founded in July 2013 to develop patient applications based on this research. The Foundation is using the new organoid technology to develop ‘personalised medicine’ for the treatment of cancer and other diseases, i.e. treatment that is tailored to the individual patient’s specific situation.

About Hans Clevers

Geneticist and physician Hans Clevers (born in 1957) has been the President of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) since 1 June 2012. He has also been Professor of Molecular Genetics at Utrecht University Medical Centre (UMC-U) since 2002. Hans Clevers studied medicine and biology, taking his doctorate at Utrecht University in 1985 and going on to carry out postdoctoral work at Harvard University. He was Professor of Immunology at the UMC-U from 1991 to 2002, when he assumed his current position as Professor of Molecular Genetics. From 2002 to 2012, Clevers was the Director of the Hubrecht Institute for Developmental Biology and Stem Cell Research, one of the Academy’s sixteen research institutes. He stepped down as the Institute’s director when he became President of the Academy. Since then, he has continued his research at the UMC-U and heads a research group at the Hubrecht Institute.