top of page

Research Award 2022: Philipp Fisch

Please introduce yourself. What is your background?

I’m originally from Germany and came to Zürich to study at ETH almost 12 years ago. I did my Bachelor in mechanical engineering and then switched to biomedical engineering in my Master. During a 3 months semester project in Marcy’s group (Tissue Engineering & Biofabrication Lab) at ETH, I got in contact with cartilage tissue engineering and bioprinting and ultimately decided that this was what I wanted to do during my PhD. In my free time I spend a lot of time in the mountains doing alpine tours, ski mountaineering, climbing etc.

You have received the SSBE award. Please briefly describe the project.

During my PhD I was working on 3D bioprinting ears. The reason we were interested in this topic is a condition called microtia, defined as the malformation or absence of the outer ear, the auricle. In the current gold standard treatment, cartilage of the lower ribs is harvested out of which an auricle is shaped that is then implanted. Tissue engineering is quite promising here as it would allow to create an auricle out of a small biopsy and through bioprinting can achieve better aesthetics. The challenge was to design a bioink, which could be easily printed but would also support the maturation of the printed grafts into auricular cartilage. To achieve this, we first developed a mechanism to bioprint an enzymatically crosslinkable material and then tuned its stress-relaxation properties. In a second step we tuned the redifferentiation potential of primary human auricular chondrocytes. Ultimately, we were able to grow auricular cartilage in vitro in the lab.

What does the SSBE award mean to you?

Receiving the SSBE award is a great honor in such a broad field as biomedical engineering that encompasses so many specialized fields where innovations are happening daily. That my research was selected for this award certainly motivates me to continue my work and translate it to the patient. It also represents a big achievement in my career and certainly supports me in my aspiration to build a career in research.

Is this project still active? What are the goals?

Yes, the project is still active. We just received funding from Innosuisse to translate this research to the patient. The goal right now is to upscale our results to human auricles. Here the challenges are the diffusion distances of nutrients and nutrient supply. We are therefore working on developing a bioreactor to culture these large grafts.

Did the award have an impact on your career?

It indeed had an impact on my career in such that it motivated me to continue pursuing my career in the academic field. The SSBE award further confirmed me in the research I’m doing and was a motivational push to continue the project and bring it to the patient.

What kind of work are you currently doing? How is it related to your PhD studies?

As mentioned above, I am continuing the project as a postdoc and we are trying to translate it to the patient. It was a seamless transition from PhD to postdoc for me and I am extremely happy to be able to continue the project. Hopefully this research will one day benefit some patients.

What is special about your current work?

I think what is special about my current work is the convergence of several fields. Tissue engineering requires knowledge in chemistry, to synthesize new materials, biology, to understand the behavior of cells, engineering, to improve the bioprinter and so on. This requires the knowledge of a lot of different people and I am extremely happy to have had the chance to work together with so many brilliant minds throughout my PhD.

The research itself I believe is special as it has a direct connection to patients. When I started my PhD this goal was still far away but step by step we improved the maturation of our cartilage grafts and now are finally able to reproduce cartilage in the lab. This will have a huge impact not only on microtia patients but will also influence future treatments for arthritis etc.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

It is difficult to say. 5 years are still a long way ahead. I absolutely love research and would be very happy to stay within the field but whether this will be in academic research or moving towards the entrepreneurial field is tricky to predict.

Is there something that you would like to convey to the SSBE members?

I’d like to thank everyone from the SSBE for making this award possible. For those who are still doing their PhD I’d like to encourage them to stay curious throughout their research. I’m looking forward to the next generations of PhDs applying for this award and their exciting research. Lastly, I would also like to thank everyone who has been involved in my research, all my colleagues, friends, and collaborators I’ve met along the way. Without them, this research would not have been possible.


bottom of page