UCL Institute of Healthcare Engineering


Drs Rebecca Shipley & James Phillips on Naked Scientist podcast

9 January 2019

Dr Rebecca Shipley and Dr James Phillips, Co-Directors of the UCL Centre for Nerve Engineering, appear on the latest the Naked Scientists’ podcast, Naked Neuroscience. The series explores the workings of our brain and nervous system.

Becky and James in the recording booth

In this episode, Becky and James discuss their research to improve the lives of patients with peripheral nerve injuries. Currently, when someone suffers a severe nerve injury and their nerves are severed, the best treatment is an autograft - a surgical procedure which involves taking healthy nerves from somewhere else on the patient’s body and putting them in the damaged area. Unfortunately, this procedure carries a number of risks and injures another part of the body. James and Becky are working on a potential alternative to this procedure. Using regenerative medicine, they are developing gels to help the severed ends of nerves regrow. 

“This would have the same support cells that you find in a nerve graft, but it would be made in a lab. So, you wouldn’t need to go and harvest a healthy bit of tissue from somewhere else”, explains James.

The team have been investigating the most effective materials and composition for the gel. The gels’ design is driven by mathematical models that determine the best area for cells to grow. “It really comes down to where you position the cells and where you position the materials to maximise the chance of good repair. We use computer-based models to explore different kinds of designs and predict which ones have the best chance”, says Becky. 

Speaking about the potential impact of this research, James and Becky both agreed the biggest benefit would be the outcome for patients. “People with nerve injuries already have a serious debilitating injury. If we can find a way to try and repair that without causing further harm, that has the potential to make a real difference”. 

Listen to the full podcast here. 

Becky previously appeared on the show in November 2017, with Tom Quick from the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital. You can listen to the episode, Peripheral nerve injury: bridging the gap’ here