Irene H. Heijink


Professor, Tenure-track Associate Professor, University of Groningen, The Netherlands, 2015 –

Lead of EXPIRE Group,  Departments of Pulmonology and Pathology & Medical Biology, University of Groningen, The Netherlands, 2013 –

Tenure Track, University of Groningen, University Medical Center Groningen, The Netherlands, 2011 –

Post-doctoral position, University of Groningen, The Netherlands, 2009

PhD,  Departments of Allergology, Hematology and Pulmonology, University of Groningen, The Netherlands, 2004

Thesis title: Dysregulation of T cell activity in asthma; role of the β2-adrenergic/cAMP system

BSc,  University of Groningen, Medical Biology, Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences, 1998


The main focus of my research is the damage and repair of the immunological mucosal barrier in lung disease. After my initial interest in the regulation of immune responses and interaction between T cells and the structural epithelial cells of the lung, my focus shifted towards the regulatory role of the epithelium in asthma and COPD. I studied a novel role of airway epithelial plasticity in these pathologies, showing that loss of epithelial barrier function is critical in the decision towards immunity and that epithelial-to-mesenchymal may drive tissue remodeling in these diseases. New concepts have emerged from these studies, e.g. on the role of mitochondrial dysfunction in abnormal airway epithelial responses in COPD. In addition, a crucial role has been proposed for epithelial damage and epithelium-derived danger signals in the pathogenesis of COPD.
My research is mainly performed using molecular approaches and cellular models in a highly translational setting. Close collaboration with clinicians and pathologists has enabled me and my team to create a unique biobank of lung epithelium and mesenchymal stromal cells for the use of patient-specific models, including the recently set-up human airway and alveolar organoid models. These advanced 3D models support our understanding of the mechanisms underlying abnormal lung epithelial repair and regeneration, in order to gain more insight in novel therapies to repair the damaged epithelium. This includes studies on mesenchymal stem/stromal cells. I have an extensive network, including ongoing collaborations with amongst others the University of Ghent, the University of British Columbia (Vancouver, Canada) and the University of Sydney (Australia).

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Hulina-Tomašković, A, Somborac-Bačura, A, Grdić Rajković, M, Hlapčić, I, Jonker, MR, Heijink, IH et al.. Extracellular Hsp70 modulates 16HBE cells’ inflammatory responses to cigarette smoke and bacterial components lipopolysaccharide and lipoteichoic acid. Cell Stress Chaperones. 2022;27 (5):587-597. doi: 10.1007/s12192-022-01294-w. PubMed PMID:36029374 PubMed Central PMC9485373.

Wildung, M, Herr, C, Riedel, D, Wiedwald, C, Moiseenko, A, Ramírez, F et al.. miR449 Protects Airway Regeneration by Controlling AURKA/HDAC6-Mediated Ciliary Disassembly. Int J Mol Sci. 2022;23 (14):. doi: 10.3390/ijms23147749. PubMed PMID:35887096 PubMed Central PMC9320302.

Ting, AE, Baker, EK, Champagne, J, Desai, TJ, Dos Santos, CC, Heijink, IH et al.. Proceedings of the ISCT scientific signature series symposium, “Advances in cell and gene therapies for lung diseases and critical illnesses”: International Society for Cell & Gene Therapy, Burlington VT, US, July 16, 2021. Cytotherapy. 2022;24 (8):774-788. doi: 10.1016/j.jcyt.2021.11.007. PubMed PMID:35613962 .

Aghapour, M, Ubags, ND, Bruder, D, Hiemstra, PS, Sidhaye, V, Rezaee, F et al.. Role of air pollutants in airway epithelial barrier dysfunction in asthma and COPD. Eur Respir Rev. 2022;31 (163):. doi: 10.1183/16000617.0112-2021. PubMed PMID:35321933 PubMed Central PMC9128841.

Tasena, H, Timens, W, van den Berge, M, van Broekhuizen, J, Kennedy, BK, Hylkema, MN et al.. MicroRNAs Associated with Chronic Mucus Hypersecretion in COPD Are Involved in Fibroblast-Epithelium Crosstalk. Cells. 2022;11 (3):. doi: 10.3390/cells11030526. PubMed PMID:35159335 PubMed Central PMC8833971.

Kruk, DMLW, Wisman, M, Noordhoek, JA, Nizamoglu, M, Jonker, MR, de Bruin, HG et al.. Paracrine Regulation of Alveolar Epithelial Damage and Repair Responses by Human Lung-Resident Mesenchymal Stromal Cells. Cells. 2021;10 (11):. doi: 10.3390/cells10112860. PubMed PMID:34831082 PubMed Central PMC8616441.

Roffel, MP, Maes, T, Brandsma, CA, van den Berge, M, Vanaudenaerde, BM, Joos, GF et al.. MiR-223 is increased in lungs of patients with COPD and modulates cigarette smoke-induced pulmonary inflammation. Am J Physiol Lung Cell Mol Physiol. 2021;321 (6):L1091-L1104. doi: 10.1152/ajplung.00252.2021. PubMed PMID:34668437 .

Roffel, MP, Boudewijn, IM, van Nijnatten, JLL, Faiz, A, Vermeulen, CJ, van Oosterhout, AJ et al.. Identification of asthma-associated microRNAs in bronchial biopsies. Eur Respir J. 2022;59 (3):. doi: 10.1183/13993003.01294-2021. PubMed PMID:34446467 .

Chen, Q, Heijink, IH, de Vries, M. Connecting GWAS Susceptibility Genes in COPD: Do We Need to Consider TGF-β2?. Am J Respir Cell Mol Biol. 2021;65 (5):468-470. doi: 10.1165/rcmb.2021-0265ED. PubMed PMID:34411507 PubMed Central PMC8641857.

Pouwels, SD, Hesse, L, Wu, X, Allam, VSRR, van Oldeniel, D, Bhiekharie, LJ et al.. LL-37 and HMGB1 induce alveolar damage and reduce lung tissue regeneration via RAGE. Am J Physiol Lung Cell Mol Physiol. 2021;321 (4):L641-L652. doi: 10.1152/ajplung.00138.2021. PubMed PMID:34405719 .

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