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Student Portrait #5: Valentin Wegner

Numerous dedicated researchers are actively contributing to imSAVAR, enhancing the project’s success. We’re pleased to showcase a recent profile featuring Valentin Wegner and his impactful work on an organ-on-chip model of the gastrointestinal tract.

My name is Valentin Wegner, and I am a PhD candidate in the lab of Dr. Alexander Mosig at the University Clinic in Jena, Germany.

Since my first internship in a biomedical lab at the University Clinic in Freiburg, I was fascinated by medical research questions, ultimately leading to my master’s degree in Molecular Medicine at the University of Jena in 2021. Intrigued by the insight of my master’s thesis in the lab of Dr. Mosig, I took the opportunity to start my PhD in 2021 and to join the imSAVAR consortium.

Within the imSAVAR consortium, we are working on the characterization of microbial metabolites and their influence on adoptive CAR T cell therapy, using an Organ-on-Chip system of the gut.

Organ-on-Chip systems are a group of innovative in vitro models aiming to replicate the physiological functions of organs by integrating living cells, biomaterials, and microengineering techniques. Hereby the smallest subunit of the organ is mimicked. In the case of the gut model, it is the three-dimensional folded structure of the inner lining of the intestine. 

The human intestine possesses a complex microbiota which is producing a wide range of metabolites or digested nutrition. These metabolites are not only acting on the intestine itself but also on various other organs and cells, including immune cells. One type of these immune cells are T or CAR T cells, which are one of the most promising new cancer treatments, even winning the Nobel Prize in 2018. For this treatment method, the immune cells of the patients are used and modified so that they can specifically target cancer cells. But besides the advantages of this new therapy, there are still many open questions to be answered. Among others, these are how the safety and efficacy of the CAR T cells can be regulated.

For that, we are working with the University Hospital Würzburg within the imSAVAR consortium to define possible players, focusing on one group of intestinal metabolites, the short-chain fatty acids (SCFA). To pinpoint effects on a cellular level we are using an immunocompetent Gut-on-Chip system where we can circulate CAR T cells pre-treated with different SCFA. As the Gut-on-Chip model almost exclusively consists of cells, expressing the target receptor for the present CAR T cells, we can analyse their effects in detail. Additionally, as there are macrophages present in the system, we can try to understand immune cell interactions, gradually solving the clues on how all components interact.

All this work is not possible without the great collaboration present within the imSAVAR consortium. To combine the expertise of different fields and together tackle a common problem.