The Find A Better Way (FABW) charity announced last month £2.8m of funding for a regenerative medicine project based in Glasgow. Last Thursday we hosted CEO Lou McGrath OBE to meet researchers from all the partner teams and tour the facilities of the Centre for Cell Engineering at the University of Glasgow.
Lou started the meeting by explaining FABW’s history; it was established to reduce fatalities and injuries caused by landmines and other explosive remnants of war. The charity was founded by Sir Bobby Charlton after he visited Cambodia and Bosnia as a sport ambassador where he witnessed the devastating effects of landmines. Lou brought to the meeting a few deactivated landmines retrieved from war zones. We were all surprised and struck by their small size, simple design and low cost of production, in stark contrast with the stories Lou recounted of the devastating harm they can cause. We learnt a lot about landmines, landmine injury and landmine detection that will help us as we progress the research.
With a few slides and informal conversation, we explained the project and the general scope of our work to Lou. Our project plans to develop novel technologies that will allow the production of custom designed bone grafts with controlled anatomical shapes. The project will result in the development of a treatment for blast injuries with significant loss of bone.
Bone will be produced in the lab by combining two technologies in which the research team are world leaders. First we will use growth factors, which are molecules that occur naturally in the body and play a critical role in the regenerative and healing processes. They are already used in clinical applications with success. In our technology the growth factors are tethered to 3D printed scaffolds that firstly support the cells’ growth into the correct tissue: we coat the scaffold in poly(ethyl acrylate) (PEA) and then fibronectin, a protein naturally found in the body. The PEA causes a conformational change in the fibronectin allowing an open conformation to which growth factors can bind to. With our technology the scaffolds can be coated with very low doses of growth factors that actively promote bone formation, which are also safe for the patient. This would be used in combination with new technology “Nanokicking”, developed here in Glasgow. Nanokicking refers to nanoscale vibrations that induce mesenchymal stem cells to form bone cells. With Nanokicking, the time that is required to produce bone in the lab will be reduced, enabling us to efficiently produce and ship the bone wherever it is needed in the world.
The funds will go towards research including an initial human study of the technology in the body. This study will use bone cells produced using these techniques, to help the reconstruction of complex fractures in fingers. This is thought to be a good starting model for more demanding scenarios and will allow progression to a full clinical trial afterwards.