CARTHAGO programme: Cartilaginous tissue regeneration by gene therapy; taking the hurdles towards efficient delivery

The EC funded Horizon 2020 Marie Curie Innovative Training Network (ITN) Carthago project is an international PhD programme on non-viral gene therapy in regenerative medicine for osteoarthritis and intervertebral disc degeneration coordinated by the University Medical Center Utrecht (UMCU). Together with 8 academic and 4 non-academic partners across 10 EU countries, it offers a unique opportunity to excellent PhD candidates (early stage researchers, ESRs) to to gain experience and skills with short-term selected secondments within a world class consortium.

The overall goal is to address the applicability of gene therapy in osteoarthritis and intervertebral disc (IVD) degeneration from all perspectives, including optimisation of cell delivery, gene expression and tissue penetration. The approach of the consortium is to design cutting-edge technology with respect to biomaterial aided delivery of gene expression regulators.

Within the Carthago consortium, several ESRs will work across several WPs to ensure interdisciplinary cohesion in the project. Physicists will get acquainted with the biology and biomechanics of cartilage and intervertebral disc tissue to understand the requirements for penetrating ultrasound protocols, but also with nucleic acid chemistry to tune release from circulating albumin. Biomaterials and nucleic acid scientists likewise will obtain in depth knowledge on the requirements for successful targeting and delivery of nucleic acids to cartilage and IVD cells, including statistical design tools. Imaging scientists will acquire the disease models required for determining efficacy of the delivered nucleic acids and collaborate with chemists to set up in vivo imaging tools based on novel click chemistry technology. Finally ESRs will participate in setting up an educational framework for “on the job” ethics education.

The consortium

The consortium is recruiting the 15 PhD students consists of partners from both academia and industry with excellent scientific qualifications in multiple disciplines:

  • University Medical Center Utrecht, Netherlands – Dr Laura Creemers and Dr Jacqueline Alblas
  • Uppsala University, Sweden – Prof. Varghese Oommen
  • University of Medicine and Pharmacy “Iuliu Hatieganu” Cluj-Napoca, Romania – Prof. Ioan Tomuta
  • University of Aarhus, Denmark – Prof Kenneth Howard
  • Aalto University, Finland – Dr Heikki Nieminen
  • Instituto Nacional de Engenharia Biomédica, Portugal – Dr Ana Pego
  • AO Research Institute Davos, Switzerland – Dr Sibylle Grad and prof Martin Stoddard
  • Uniwersytet Jagiellonski, Poland – Prof Marcin Waligora
  • Albumedix, United Kingdom – Dr Jason Cameron
  • Evonik, Germany – Dr Dana Kralisch
  • 20Med, The Netherlands – Dr Jaap Rip


Multifaceted international training programme

The CARTHAGO team provides that cover the whole spectrum of technologies and disease models since it represents a highly multidisciplinary consortium that will address the applicability of gene therapy in osteoarthritis and IVD degeneration from all perspectives, including optimisation of delivery to cells, gene expression and tissue penetration, bioethics, business, and education.