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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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 .

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; :. 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. 2021; :. 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 .

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 .

Vasse, GF, Van Os, L, De Jager, M, Jonker, MR, Borghuis, T, Van Den Toorn, LT et al.. Adipose Stromal Cell-Secretome Counteracts Profibrotic Signals From IPF Lung Matrices. Front Pharmacol. 2021;12 :669037. doi: 10.3389/fphar.2021.669037. PubMed PMID:34393771 PubMed Central PMC8355988.

Kuchibhotla, VNS, Starkey, MR, Reid, AT, Heijink, IH, Nawijn, MC, Hansbro, PM et al.. Inhibition of β-Catenin/CREB Binding Protein Signaling Attenuates House Dust Mite-Induced Goblet Cell Metaplasia in Mice. Front Physiol. 2021;12 :690531. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2021.690531. PubMed PMID:34385933 PubMed Central PMC8353457.

Samarelli, AV, Tonelli, R, Heijink, I, Martin Medina, A, Marchioni, A, Bruzzi, G et al.. Dissecting the Role of Mesenchymal Stem Cells in Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis: Cause or Solution. Front Pharmacol. 2021;12 :692551. doi: 10.3389/fphar.2021.692551. PubMed PMID:34290610 PubMed Central PMC8287856.

Chen, Q, de Vries, M, Nwozor, KO, Noordhoek, JA, Brandsma, CA, Boezen, HM et al.. A Protective Role of FAM13A in Human Airway Epithelial Cells Upon Exposure to Cigarette Smoke Extract. Front Physiol. 2021;12 :690936. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2021.690936. PubMed PMID:34163376 PubMed Central PMC8215130.

Kruk, DMLW, Wisman, M, Bruin, HG, Lodewijk, ME, Hof, DJ, Borghuis, T et al.. Abnormalities in reparative function of lung-derived mesenchymal stromal cells in emphysema. Am J Physiol Lung Cell Mol Physiol. 2021;320 (5):L832-L844. doi: 10.1152/ajplung.00147.2020. PubMed PMID:33656381 .

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