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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/S016589/1
Title: Instructive acellular tissue engineering (IATE)
Principal Investigator: Cox, Dr S
Other Investigators:
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Trinity College Dublin
Department: Chemical Engineering
Organisation: University of Birmingham
Scheme: New Investigator Award
Starts: 01 August 2019 Ends: 31 July 2021 Value (£): 273,280
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Tissue engineering
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
30 Oct 2018 HT Investigator-led Panel Meeting - October 2018 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
There are currently 10 million people in the UK affected by musculoskeletal disorders, which costs the National Health Service £4.76 billion annually. Alarmingly with increasing life expectancy and the demand for sustained quality of life in older years, this pressure is only expected to rise. As such, new approaches to regenerate damaged or diseased bones are greatly needed. Ideally, these technologies should improve patient outcomes while also being cost effective.

Outside of grafting bone from another part of the body, which is limited in scale and results in local morbidity, current approaches to regenerate bone typically rely on combining concentrated doses of single proteins with structural materials. However, since these approaches do not mimic the natural formation process of bone they can be sub-optimal and even result in significant side effects. Therefore, in the past decade researchers have focused on developing a new strategy, tissue engineering. This field aims to imitate natural regeneration by bringing together the three major constituents. Tissue engineering combines cells with instructive biological factors and incorporates them into a material to allow them to be delivered to the intended site. Despite many advancements in tissue engineering and promising results at a laboratory scale, very few of these technologies reach clinical use. This is typically due to cell-based products not meeting regulatory standards associated with safety and reproducibility since the behaviour of cells when implanted may be difficult to control. Furthermore, the complex process of approving biological therapies is extremely expensive and may take over 10 years. In this project, a novel bone regeneration treatment will be developed that mimics our body's own development processes. This acellular approach will lead to a safe therapy, which aims to circumnavigate the issues associated with current treatments.

Research has shown that during healthy development of bone nanosized (one billionth of a metre) particles are released from bone forming cells (osteoblasts) that act as sites to bring together all of the elements needed to create the mineral component of this tissue. These particles, termed extracellular vesicles, have been shown to be carriers of important factors (for example proteins) that may instruct and encourage bone formation. It has also been found that these vesicles may signal to other cells involved in healing processes enhancing their effect. As such, the development of a bone regeneration therapy based on delivery of such vesicles represents an exciting opportunity to recapitulate the way our bodies regenerate in a healthy state.

In this project, we will study the process by which bone cells form these regenerative vesicles and use a range of techniques to unearth further information on what they contain. This new fundamental knowledge will allow us to develop a safe therapy, which exploits and maximises the natural healing capacity of vesicles. During the programme, we will use our multidisciplinary expertise to engineer a material capable of controllably releasing vesicles along with other acellular factors known to encourage bone regeneration. This work will deliver a technology that may be locally injected into a site of bone disease or injury for which we will demonstrate its effectiveness to enhance mineral formation beyond current clinical gold standards. With our project collaborators, we will also explore the opportunity to form this material using a bioprinting process into 3D structures that will help to guide bone regeneration.

While the primary focus of this programme is to develop a novel acellular technology capable of regenerating bone, we will also examine the capacity of vesicle derived from cartilage cells. The possibility to programme vesicles to repair cartilage is very attractive since this tissue has limited self-healing capacity and is often compromised in musculoskeletal injuries
Key Findings
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Potential use in non-academic contexts
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Further Information:  
Organisation Website: http://www.bham.ac.uk