UCL Institute of Healthcare Engineering


Tissue-engineered nerve solution awarded £1m from EPSRC

16 January 2018

Dr Rebecca Shipley (UCL Mechanical Engineering, Co-Director of the Centre for Nerve Engineering) was announced as one of eight researchers to be awarded grants through the EPSRC Healthcare Technology.

Dr Rebecca Shipley

The innovative project, titled “Mathematical Modelling led Design of Tissue-Engineered Constructs: A New Paradigm for Peripheral Nerve Repair (NerveDesign)” was awarded £1,054,517 to develop new treatments for peripheral nerve repair.

Peripheral nerve injury refers to damage to the peripheral nervous system, and can cause loss of sensation and muscle control, chronic pain and permanent disability. There are a number of possible causes such as trauma and injury, or as a side-effect of other diseases. The condition predominantly affects young people and has a significant impact on their quality of life. The best treatment option currently available uses a nerve autograft from another area of the patient’s body, but this method has drawbacks and limited functional outcomes.EPSRC Chief Executive, Professor Philip Nelson, said: “EPSRC’s Healthcare Technologies Challenge Awards are designed to equip the next generation of research leaders with the tools they need to tackle current and emerging health challenges facing society.

“These awards will help them to develop novel therapies that enhance efficiency and reduce risks to patients; create prostheses and other devices to restore normal function; produce minimally-invasive physical interventions to repair damage or remove disease; and optimise treatment for the individual, improving health outcomes.”

The financial support from EPSRC will enable the NerveDesign team to build on recent advances in tissue engineering and stem cell technologies, and use computational modelling as a tool to design nerve replacement tissues. In addition, they will create a robust testing framework which incorporates in silico, in vitro and in vivo models will enable outcomes to be rapidly translated to the clinic.

The team hope to pinpoint and quantify the chemical and physical stimuli that promote growth of blood vessels and nerves, using their framework of computational and in vitro testing. Computer simulations with be used to test various potential nerve repair construct designs in silico, and the leading contenders will be fabricated and then tested in preclinical models.

Dr Rebecca Shipley comments “I am absolutely delighted to have been awarded this EPSRC funding, which will allow me to take my programme of computational modelling for peripheral nerve repair to the next level.

“This is a very exciting, interdisciplinary project that brings together mathematical modelling, tissue engineering, biomaterials and stem cells research, and works directly with clinicians at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital. I am very grateful to the EPSRC for the funding, and to UCL Mechanical Engineering and the Institute for Healthcare Engineering for their continued support.”

EPSRC Healthcare Technology Challenge grants are designed to address long-term health challenges through the development of innovative healthcare technologies with a focus on high-quality, creative and multi-disciplinary research. The NerveDesign team brings together an exciting team of UCL scientists and clinicians, including Dr James Phillips, UCL Biomaterials and Tissue and Engineering and Mr Tom Quick from the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital. The team will also work closely with UK SME Biogelx, incorporating and testing their synthetic tissue engineering materials.

This project lies at the core of the newly-launched UCL Centre for Nerve Engineering.

For additional information please visit Dr Rebecca Shipley’s homepageUCL Biomaterials and Tissue Engineering and UCL Mechanical Engineering.

Please visit the EPSRC website for more information on the EPSRC Healthcare Technologies Challenge award winner.