Spin-off project UriCell


UriCell is a spin-off project from the Institute for Stem Cell Research and Regenerative Medicine of the University Hospital Düsseldorf and uses urine as an innovative non-invasive biomaterial to generate human personalised kidney stem cell products. The project is currently funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy through the program “EXIST Transfer of Research I”.


Problem to address

1. So far, in vitro testing in the kidney area relies on animal cells, genetically modified cell lines or human primary cells from diseased patients obtained by the invasive procedure of kidney biopsy which is associated with limitations such as availability, costs, risks and ethical issues. These standards lead to suboptimal prediction values.

2. To increase the prediction value and foster the research in the kidney field, there is an increasing demand for high quality human kidney cells.

3. In addition to that, the prevalence of kidney-associated diseases is increasing and identified as a health and economic burden worldwide. Thus there is a need for prevention of these diseases through better quality in vitro testing e.g. in the area of drug development.



Based on their research from the last five years, the UriCell team has developed an innovative process to obtain human kidney stem cell products from urine. The benefits of the non-invasive UriCell approach includes higher cell quality, a broad cell spectrum, customized cell products, personalized research, reproducibility and the possible reduction of animal testing.



The UriCell team members are: Dr. Lucas-Sebastian Spitzhorn (Scientist, Project leader), Audrey Ncube (Scientist), Paul Stut (Business Development), Martina Bohndorf (Medical technical assistance), Wasco Wruck (Bioinformatician) and Professor Dr. James Adjaye (Project mentor, Institute Director).





Lucas-Sebastian Spitzhorn as the project manager is responsible for the matching of the scientific and the business development at UriCell. He holds a PhD degree in Biology from Heinrich-Heine University, Düsseldorf. His PhD thesis focused on the generation and characterization of amniotic fluid and urine derived stem cells. He also described MSCs derived from iPSCs (iMSCs) as rejuvenated stem cells capable of contributing to liver and bone healing in vivo. Over the years his work focused on the isolation, cultivation, characterization and differentiation of stem cells into different cell types where he mainly focused on mesenchymal stem cells.

Audrey Ncube is responsible for the scientific development and has years of experience in the research of renal stem cells from urine. She holds a BSc in Applied Biology and MSc in Biomedical Sciences from Hochschule Bonn-Rhein-Sieg, Germany. The practical lab-work for the two degrees was conducted at the Institute for Stem Cell Research and Regenerative Medicine at Heinrich-Heine-University Düsseldorf, Germany where she now works as a scientific research associate since 2016. The focus of her work is on stem cells from different sources, particularly the generation of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), their cultivation and characterization.

Paul Stut is responsible for the business development at UriCell having an economic background and professional experience in the medical sector. He holds a BSc degree in Business Administration after completing his dual study program at NORDAKADEMIE Elmshorn in cooperation with Johnson & Johnson Medical GmbH. There he studied and worked in several departments of the healthcare company in Germany, Sweden and USA. Afterwards he worked in the medical sales force and consulting of Johnson & Johnson for some years approaching physicians and hospitals in West Germany.

Martina Bohndorf is a medical technical assistant and is responsible for research & development as well as for production at UriCell. Together with Prof. Dr. Adjaye, she has developed the protocols for the isolation, cultivation, propagation and the reprogramming of the urine-derived stem cells. From 2002 until 2004 she was at the Institute for Toxicology at the Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf, and afterwards she worked in the Institute for Neurophysiology until 2013. Since then she is part of the team at the Institute for Stem Cell Research and Regenerative Medicine. With this, she has an experience of over ten years in the work with stem cells.


Professor Dr. James Adjaye has a BSc (Honours) degree in Biochemistry from University College of Cardiff, Wales, and an MSc in Biochemistry from University of Sussex, Brighton. He has a PhD in Biochemistry from King's College, London. Professor Adjaye was head of the Molecular Embryology and Aging group at the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics, Berlin, Germany. He is now Director of the Institute for Stem Cell Research and Regenerative Medicine within the Faculty of Medicine at the Heinrich-Heine-University, Düsseldorf, Germany. He is involved in systems biology-based projects both at the national and international level where iPSCs are used to model Alzheimer's Disease and Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) and Nijmegen Breakage Syndrome.

Wasco Wruck has a diploma in computer science and a diploma in architecture from Technische Universität Berlin, Germany. He worked as a software developer with Siemens AG and BULL AG before joining the Max-Planck-Institute for Molecular Genetics in Berlin. There he worked as a Bioinformatician on microarray-based image analysis, application development and to evaluate various types of high-throughput genomics experiments. He then worked on a European Systems biology research project at Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin and was elected chair of the ERASysBio+ initiative's data management group. He currently works at the Institute for Stem Cell Research and Regenerative Medicine at Heinrich-Heine-University Düsseldorf, Germany.




November 2019 Science4Life Venture Cup:

UriCell was one of the 20 finalists in the Idea Phase of the Science4Life Venture Cup which is focusing on innovative, technology-based start-ups in the life science field.



November 2019: Winner of the Handelsblatt University Innovation Challenge in the category Future Life Science



November 2019: Start of the funding program EXIST Transfer of Research I

The spin-off project UriCell was granted with a three-ear funding by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy and the European Social Fund through the program “EXIST Transfer of Research I”.



October 2019: BioRiver Boost! 2019

UriCell was one of the eight finalists of the start-up competition focusing on biotech companies.



October 2019: 11th Congress of the German Society of Nephrology

UriCell was present with a booth and a poster at the 11th Congress of the German Society of Nephrology in Düsseldorf.



October 2019 22nd European Congress on Alternatives for Animal Testing:

UriCell was present with a booth and a talk at the 22nd European Congress on Alternatives for Animal Tetsing in Linz. Since 1991 the “Linz-Congress” has emerged in Europe as the major scientific event in the field of the 3Rs and in 2019 the EUSAAT 2019 3Rs Congress Linz was the largest international 3Rs congress.



November 2018: Start of the funding program Start-Up-Hochschulausgründungen-NRW

UriCell was granted with a one-year funding from the European Regional Development Fund for further development of the start-up. The next steps include scale-up, quality management, product development, business model, intellectual property, cooperation and pilot customers.



TechTour NRW Venture Forum 2018

UriCell was award winner at TechTour NRW Venture Forum 2018. NRW Venture Forum 2018 is one of the 10 semi-finals for the Tech Tour flagship event - European Venture Contest Final 2018 (EVC Final). Showcasing 40+ innovative companies recruited in Healthtech, ICT and Cleantech based in the NRW region looking for seed and series A investments. An expert jury formed by investors and corporate key players selected the 25 best-performing entrepreneurs which were invited to present at EVC Final in Düsseldorf on 10-11 December 2018.




Rheinischer Innovationspreis 2018

UriCell wins the Rheinischer Innovationspreis 2018 of the entrepreneurship Düsseldorf. Video: WEBLINK. The prize was awarded at the Arbeitgebertag 2018. more.


NUK Business plan competition 2017

UriCell wins the 2nd prize and the audience award in the Business plan competition 2017 of the entrepreneur initiative NUK (Neues Unternehmertum Rheinland e.V.).



HHU Idea competition 2016

UriCell wins the audience award in the Idea competition 2016 of the Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf.



BioRiver Boost! 2016

UriCell is one of the winners of the BioRiver Boost! competition 2016, which has been organized by the industry association Branchenverband of the Life-Science-Enterprises in the Rhineland.




The Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR: Westgerman Broadcast) reports about UriCell's riskless and painless method to gain stem cells from urine in the article Düsseldorfer Forscher gewinnen Stammzellen aus Urin :



RP Online

The Rheinische Post (RP Online) reports about UriCell's non-invasive approach to extract stem cells from urine in the article Forscher gewinnen Stammzellen aus Urin :




1. Rahman MS, Wruck W, Spitzhorn LS, Nguyen L, Bohndorf M, Martins S, Asar F, Ncube A, Erichsen L, Graffmann N, Adjaye J. The FGF, TGFβ and WNT axis Modulate Self-renewal of Human SIX2(+) Urine Derived Renal Progenitor Cells. Sci Rep. 2020 Jan 20;10(1):739. doi: 10.1038/s41598-020-57723-2. PubMed PMID: 31959818; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC6970988. Weblink

2. Constructing an Isogenic 3D Human Nephrogenic Progenitor Cell Model Composed of Endothelial, Mesenchymal, and SIX2-Positive Renal Progenitor Cells Nguyen L, Spitzhorn LS, Adjaye J. Stem Cells Int. 2019 May 2;2019:3298432. doi: 10.1155/2019/3298432. eCollection 2019. PubMed PMID:31191670; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC6525793. Weblink

3. Urine-derived stem cells as innovative platform for drug testing and disease modelling Rahman MS, Spitzhorn LS, Ncube A, Nguyen L, Bohndorf M, Wruck W, Adjaye J. Drug target Review 2018, 2 (20 July 2018) Weblink

4. The presence of human mesenchymal stem cells of renal origin in amniotic fluid increases with gestational time Rahman MS, Spitzhorn LS, Wruck W, Hagenbeck C, Balan P, Graffmann N, Bohndorf M, Ncube A, Guillot PV, Fehm T, Adjaye J. Stem Cell Research & Therapy (2018) 9:113 doi: 10.1186/s13287-018-0864-7 Weblink

5. Derivation and characterization of integration-free iPSC line ISRM-UM51 derived from SIX2-positive renal cells isolated from urine of an African male expressing the CYP2D6 *4/*17 variant which confers intermediate drug metabolizing activity Bohndorf M, Ncube A, Spitzhorn LS, Enczmann J, Wruck W, Adjaye J. Stem Cell Research 25:18-21, 2017. Weblink

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