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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/T013885/1
Title: A new technology platform for neuro-regeneration: Next generation electroactive bioprostheses for spinal cord injury (SCI)
Principal Investigator: Chari, Professor DM
Other Investigators:
Malliaras, Professor G Huang, Dr YYS
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Department: Inst for Science and Tech in Medicine
Organisation: Keele University
Scheme: Discipline Hopping Awards
Starts: 01 March 2020 Ends: 31 October 2022 Value (£): 154,933
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Bioelectronic Devices Biomaterials
Tissue engineering
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Healthcare
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
17 Oct 2019 HT Investigator-led Panel Meeting - October 2019 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
Repairing the injured spinal cord is a challenging task with several obstacles facing clinicians and scientists. This is because the injured spinal cord has very little ability to heal itself after injury. This means there are many serious and difficult consequences for patients and their carers, and a huge cost of care for the NHS.

The use of materials that can be surgically delivered into injury areas- in particular jelly-like structures called 'hydrogels' - have shown great promise for increasing repair in spinal injuries. These are soft materials which can be moulded into injury sites by clinicians, and allow for repairing cells in injury areas, such as nerve cells or blood vessels, to grow inside the implant.

Research has also shown that electrical stimulation that is currently used in clinical neuro-rehabilitation treatments can improve repair and movement after spinal injury. However, there is very little research that investigates combined use of soft hydrogels with electrical stimulation for spinal cord injury. The aim of this project is to lay the groundwork for development of highly sophisticated versions of hydrogels to function as devices that can be implanted into the patient and electrically stimulated to increase spinal repair. It will do this by allowing the applicant (a biologist with a background in repair of spinal cord injuries) to undergo a bespoke training programme with engineering teams at the University of Cambridge.

First, the applicant will be trained in the use of new digital printing methods to generate soft 3D hydrogels which have patterns created in them. The goal of the first stage is to create pattern 'guides' within the hydrogels which will help repairing cells grow in a particular, targeted direction, and recreate the organised structure of the spinal cord that has been disrupted by the injury.

In the second stage, the applicant will be trained in producing and testing soft materials that can deliver electrical stimulation.

The materials from the two stages will then be combined to create a 'hybrid implant' for delivery into the spinal cord, that is capable of guiding the growth of repairing nerve cells and be electrically stimulated at the same time. The approach we intend to take could lay the groundwork for the development of a very advanced class of materials that have a better ability to increase repair than the materials currently available. It is hoped that such work will result in a major new field of research to develop soft and electrically active implants for the repair of spinal cord injury, and develop new treatments for such injuries.

Key Findings
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Organisation Website: http://www.keele.ac.uk