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A new generation of biological scaffolds

14 July 2010

Professor John Fisher from The University of Leeds is speaking today (14 July) at the UK National Stem Cell Network Annual Science Meeting in Nottingham about his Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) - funded research into how biological scaffolding will pave the way for off-the-shelf tissue transplants.

Professor Fisher and his colleague Professor Eileen Ingham have been working on ways of producing biological scaffolds, derived from natural human or animal tissues such as vascular patches, meniscus (knee cartilage), and tendons that will not be rejected by a patient's immune system and can be repaired and renewed like normal tissue.

The technique developed by the Leeds group removes the cells from natural tissues to leave a biological scaffold which can be regenerated by the patient's own cells. Scaffolds derived from human donor tissue are being developed by the NHS Blood & Transplant Tissue Services, while scaffolds developed from animal tissues are being developed and commercialised by Tissue Regenix Group PLC.

Professor Fisher said: "If you take a natural tissue and strip off all of the donor's cells you're left with a biological scaffold made mostly of a protein called collagen, which is compatible with the patient receiving the scaffold. That scaffold is good from an engineering perspective because it's strong, flexible and retains the properties of the natural tissue. It also has the appropriate shape and size, and from a biological perspective is good because a patient's cells can bind to it and repopulate it easily."

Because a patient's own cells can populate the new biological scaffolds, they are accepted by the immune system and can be repaired like normal tissue. There is a significant advantage from this technique because of the longevity of the transplant compared to other previously developed techniques. Chemically treated and strengthened prosthetic heart valves from pigs, for example, have been in used in human transplants for more than a decade, but the chemical process which stops them from being rejected by the patient's immune system also leaves them lifeless and inert. Because they cannot be repaired like living tissues, these prosthetic valves are degraded over time and need to be replaced frequently.

Professor Fisher continued: "These new biological scaffolds will provide off-the-shelf tissues for surgeons for repairing blood vessels after surgery for blocked arteries, for repairing meniscus after sporting injuries and cartilage tears, for repairing torn ligaments or tendons and for heart valve repair or replacement.

This research is being developed in conjunction with the NHS Blood & Transplant Tissue Services and with Tissue Regenix Group PLC, a company set up by researchers to bring new biological scaffolds to market. Funding for the research in this area also came via the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the Children's Heart Surgery Fund, the Department of Health and the Wellcome Trust.

ENDS

About UKNSCN

The UK National Stem Cell Network acts as a network for stem cell researchers and all stakeholders. It aims to bring coordination and coherence to a range of national and regional activities in the field of stem cell research. Its overall mission is to promote and enhance the coordination of research across the sub-disciplines of stem cell science, thereby helping to speed to translation basic research into therapeutic applications.

2010 will be the third UKNSCN Annual Conference, following on from successful events in Edinburgh (2008) and Oxford (2009).

The UKNSCN currently receives financial support from four of the UK Research Councils:

  • Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)
  • Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
  • Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)
  • Medical Research Council (MRC)

The Network operates for all stakeholders in UK stem cell research. The secretariat is operated through BBSRC on behalf of all the Government sponsors of stem cell research, including the Research Councils, the Department of Health, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Technology Strategy Board. Its work is governed by a sponsors' Management Board, supported by an expert Advisory Committee.

About BBSRC

BBSRC is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £470M in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life in the UK and beyond and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders, including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors.

BBSRC provides institute strategic research grants to the following:

  • The Babraham Institute
  • Institute for Animal Health
  • Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (Aberystwyth University)
  • Institute of Food Research
  • John Innes Centre
  • The Genome Analysis Centre
  • The Roslin Institute (University of Edinburgh)
  • Rothamsted Research

The Institutes conduct long-term, mission-oriented research using specialist facilities. They have strong interactions with industry, Government departments and other end-users of their research.