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Using organoids to study lung diseases

University of Bonn appoints Ana Ivonne Vazquez-Armendariz as Argelander Professor specializing in organoid biology

Ana Ivonne Vazquez-Armendariz is setting out to develop “mini-organs” in order to study metabolic and disease mechanisms. She hopes that they can give her a better understanding of lung disease. As Argelander Professor in the Life and Health Transdisciplinary Research Area (TRA) at the University of Bonn, Vazquez-Armendariz is working at the interface between various disciplines, bridging the gap between chemistry, biology and medicine in the process.

Organoids are made from stem cells in the lab. Cell clusters organize spatially into organ-like structures, which is why they are also known as “mini-organs.” Researchers can use organoids to investigate the interactions between cells in 3D.

The Argelander professorships for early-career researchers (named after the Bonn-based astronomer Friedrich Wilhelm August Argelander, 1799–1875) are geared toward expanding the research profile of the University’s six TRAs, where researchers work together to tackle issues of great relevance to the future across subject and faculty boundaries.

“Organoid research is very much a pioneering field in modern biomedical research,” says Prof. Dr. Waldemar Kolanus, ImmunoSensation2
Speaker, who is also speaker of the TRA Life and Health, where the professorships are based. In his view, organoid research is partly about bridging the gap between the existing cell culture models and even more complex animal models and partly about embracing a completely new philosophy: “It’s a question of building living ‘organ-like’ systems from scratch, literally from individual (stem) cells. In other words, constructing organs ourselves rather than ‘pulling them apart’ as we used to will give us a better understanding of how they develop.”

Organoids are already used in numerous labs at the University and the University Hospital Bonn. By recruiting Jun.-Prof. Dr. Vazquez-Armendariz as assistant professor, however, the University succeeded in establishing a new and highly visible research focus in this rapidly evolving field.

The lung as a “mini-organ”

Jun.-Prof. Dr. Ana Ivonne Vazquez-Armendariz and her team primarily use 3D lung organoids, which are created from various mouse and human stem cells and are designed to model lung generation and regeneration.

Vazquez-Armendariz has already built a robust and reliable mini-organ in her research work to date, the so-called bronchioalveolar lung organoid (BALO). This is made using cells taken from the epithelial tissue of the lower respiratory tract and stem cells from the connective tissue of mice. The cells organize themselves into lung-like structures within their culture in the space of a few weeks, before diversifying into other cells of the respiratory system. Vazquez-Armendariz and her team developed a technique for introducing immune cells into the lung organoids in order to study how the cells interact while they are being injured and repaired.

“The model is also well-suited to support infection and replication of selected respiratory viruses such as influenza,” Ana Ivonne Vazquez-Armendariz says. This direct method of infection also triggers a stronger antiviral response from the immune cells, allowing Vazquez-Armendariz and her team to imitate lung injury caused by an influenza infection. Her lab also aims to make an organoid from human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) closely resembling the lung architecture, thus allowing it to serve as a highly informative tool for modeling diseases and be deployed in regenerative medicine.

Says Vazquez-Armendariz: “Ultimately, our research goal is to dissect the cellular and molecular crosstalk between lung epithelium and immune cells. Hopefully this will tell us more about unknown lung development, infection, injury and repair mechanisms.”


Ana Ivonne Vazquez-Armendariz studied clinical biochemistry at the University of Nuevo León in Mexico and molecular medicine at Charité in Berlin. She gained her doctorate and continued her work as a postdoctoral researcher at the Justus Liebig University Giessen. Vazquez-Armendariz established and headed up her first research group at the University of Giessen’s Institute for Lung Health two years ago. She is now continuing the work on lung organoids and disease modeling that she began there in her new position of Argelander Professor at the University of Bonn. Her research has already been published in a number of renowned journals and has won multiple awards, including from the American Thoracic Society.


Jun.-Prof. Ana Ivonne Vazquez-Armendariz

LIMES Institute

University of Bonn

© Universität Bonn/Barbara Frommann

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