Award by the ERC for SPRAYNERGY – a Proof of Concept project.

The European Research Council (ERC) awarded a 18 months research grant for the project Translational synergistic growth factor microenvironments for bone regeneration (SPRAYNERGY). The ERC has just published the list of 46 grants funded from the last 2015 deadline of the Proof of Concept (PoC) call. The PoC scheme allows existing ERC grantees to apply for grants of up to €150,000 over 18 months to help them to explore the innovation potential or support commercialisation of the results of their ERC-funded research.

In SPRAYNERGY we have proposed a robust polymer-based system that allows a safer delivery of recombinant human bone morphogenetic protein-2 (rhBMP2) for bone tissue engineering. We are developing a spray-coated construct for non-union bone defects to induce and direct bone growth and will investigate in vivo the engineered systems. We have teamed up with a local surgeon and a local SME for the appraisal of the system from a translational standpoint. Early in May 2015 we filed a patent covering the technology.

rhBMP2 is a powerful human growth factor (GF) essential in tissue morphogenesis and used to promote bone growth in clinical applications. Current clinical delivery has encountered serious complications associated with the high doses used. We have developed a system that allows the effective presentation of GFs in combination with the integrin binding domain of fibronectin (FN), promoting simultaneous and co-localised signalling between GF receptors and
integrins. We have shown the ability of some acrylate polymers to organise FN and sequester rhBMP2 in synergy with the integrin binding region to direct stem cell differentiation. This technology enhances bone regeneration and vascularisation with very low rhBMP-2 doses. With this understanding we have engineered a system to regenerate a bone critical size defect in a murine model. PEA is however a non-degradable material, a major hurdle to be overcome for many potential applications. We will fabricate a degradable construct spray-coated with a nanometric layer of this functional material to induce and direct bone growth – as already shown for the bulk polymer in our ERC Grant. Overall, we will develop a safe and versatile bone system for clinical use in patients with non-union bone defects, and set a route towards commercialisation.