University of Glasgow receives £2.8m regenerative medicine award

Published: 15 September 2016

Find A Better Way is pleased to announce a £2.8m grant to the University of Glasgow’s Institute of Molecular Cell and Systems Biology and School of Engineering to fund advances in regenerative medicine.

Find A Better Way is pleased to announce a £2.8m grant to the University of Glasgow’s Institute of Molecular Cell and Systems Biology and School of Engineering to fund advances in regenerative medicine.

Led by Professor Manuel Salmeron-Sanchez, the project is developing a technique that improves bone-growth-promoting treatments while reducing side effects.Lab

The team will be working with a specific growth factor known as bone morphogenetic protein 2 (BMP-2) that occurs naturally in the body and plays an important role in the development of bone and cartilage. Growth factors are produced by cells to tell other cells nearby what to do and BMP-2 is produced in bone when cells recognise the need to generate new bone,  for example, if there is damaged bone resulting from a fracture or blast. BMP-2 has been used in surgery with good success, however, problems arise as the BMP-2 is applied as a liquid at high dose. A high dose is needed as the liquid BMP-2 seeps away from the area of damage over time,  however, the BMP-2 that travels around the body causes unwanted, and potentially very serious, off-target side-effects.

The University of Glasgow team have devised a revolutionary new delivery mechanism that should maximise the clinical effectiveness, and reduce the side effects of BMP-2. Applying nanometer thick coatings of an otherwise unremarkable polymer known as poly(ethyl acrylate), PEA, onto implant materials, the researchers can deliver BMP-2 in a format that cells are more used to interacting with so that the treatment is far more biologically active than when applied in liquid form. The implants can then be applied topically to damaged bone with a dose 300 times smaller than currently used. Lower doses will not only reduce the risk of harmful side-effects, but should hopefully lower the cost of treatment as well.

Although the benefits from the University of Glasgow research are expected to be wide-ranging, the project attracted the attention of Find A Better Way specifically because of its potential to improve the lives of innocent landmine victims. An estimated 1,200 civilians survive landmine accidents every month. Although blast trauma surgical techniques have improved hugely in recent years, it is hoped that future advances in regenerative medicine will improve the quality of life of landmine victims even further. The technology can also be used to make lab-grown bone from a patient’s own bone cells. 3D printing will be used to allow the researchers to generate anatomically correct living bone implants to heal the injury best. The ultimate vision is ‘off the shelf’ bone that can be delivered anywhere in the world.

To facilitate this, the project will also include use of the novel NanoKick bioreactor developed by Professors Matthew Dalby (Cell Engineering, University of Glasgow) and Stuart Reid (Astrophysics, University of the West of Scotland). Drawing on the use of interferometry to measure very small movements and as recently used for gravitational wave detection, the bioreactor supplies tiny nanoscale vibrations to bone cell cultures that stimulate bone formation further. This technique will be used in combination with PEA/BMP-2 technology to help speed up bone formation in the lab and speed up delivery of lab grown bone to patients.

The £2.8 million from Find A Better Way will fund the University of Glasgow research for five years starting from the start of 2017. By this point it is expected an initial human trial will be completed and the technology will be ready for wider clinical testing.

Speaking of the funding grant, Find A Better Way CEO Lou McGrath, OBE, said: "Prosthesis technology and surgical skills for blast injuries have improved vastly in recent years, but it regenerative medicine holds the ultimate promise for landmine victims. We are a long way from being able to fully restore a damaged limb fully, but this research at the University of Glasgow is a vital step and Find A Better Way are enormously proud to be funding it."

Professor Manuel Salmeron-Sanchez said:: This ground-breaking research will help unleash the full potential of growth factors; the biological signals that cells use to direct our growth and development in early life and regeneration in later life. Unlocking this potential safely – as these are incredibly strong biological signals that can cause unwanted effects – will represent a large step in our ability to heal people with devastating injuries. We will focus on bone as it is the tissue that scaffolds our body.  As our plan is to make ‘off the shelf’ bone, we will team up with our nanokicking technology that will significantly speed up our delivery of the product."

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First published: 15 September 2016