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School of Materials

Two students conducting biomaterials experiments in lab

Biomaterials

Our School's researchers are developing advanced biomaterials for a variety of applications including regenerative medicine, acellular approaches, biosensors and anti-viral technology.

Our particular strengths and areas of focus include stimulatory and degradable systems based on natural and synthetic polymers, magnesium alloys, bioactive glasses and sol-gel inorganic-organic hybrids, nanocomposites and hydrogels.

The group also specialises in additive manufacturing, 3D (bio)printing, nanofibre electrospinning and solution blow spinning, self-assembling peptide hydrogels, 3D cell culture biomimetic platforms, stem cell engineering and bioreactor design.

Case studies

Biomaterials research is making a significant societal impact, as demonstrated by our case studies:

Peptide hydrogels; from seed funding to commercialisation

Scientists at The University of Manchester have co-founded a new company, Manchester BIOGEL (formerly PeptiGelDesign), based at the BioHub, Alderley Park, which is dedicated to the commercialisation of an innovative hydrogel technology developed at the University.

Work on the peptide-based hydrogels started back in 2004 when Professor Aline Miller (School of Chemical Engineering and Analytical Science) and Professor Alberto Saiani (School of Materials) were awarded a small seed fund of £4,000 from the University. This prompted them to establish, within the University, the Polymers and Peptide Research Group, which is located at the Manchester Institute of Biotechnology. They went on to build on this initial project by attracting over £6 million in funding to the University from public and private bodies over the past ten years. This has led to the development of a technological platform for the design of peptide-based hydrogels, which are now being applied in biomedical and biotechnological fields in areas such as tissue engineering, drug delivery and DNA sensing.

"A true success story"

The technology is based on understanding and controlling the self-assembly of small peptides across the length scales to permit the design of bespoke hydrogel materials. Professor Julie Gough (School of Materials) became involved in the early stage development of these materials for cell culture and tissue engineering applications and she said: "This highly innovative technology actually works. It allows the design of materials that can be tailored to mimic the three-dimensional micro-environment in which we culture cells. Cells have very different requirements depending on their origin, nature and function and this technology allows the design of hydrogels with properties and functionality tailored to each cell type. This opens up new possibilities in cell culture and tissue engineering fields."

Professor Aline Miller, who led the original seed project, said: "This is a true success story. We started over ten years ago with a fundamental science project for which we were awarded a small pot of internal faculty money to do proof-of-concept work and here we are ten years later co-founding a company to sell the novel materials we developed."

In addition to the hydrogel technology, Manchester BIOGEL is also working on bringing to market an innovative cardiac patch medical device that was developed through a collaboration between the University and a number of other European institutions.

Nerve guidance conduits for peripheral nerve repair

Peripheral nerve injury is common and functional recovery is often poor, which has a profound and permanent impact on patient recovery and quality of life.

We have designed and developed a nerve guidance conduit, a collaboration between biomaterials scientists, peripheral nerve biologists and plastic surgeons based at The University of Manchester and University Hospital of South Manchester. This conduit aims to replace autologous grafting in up to 2cm nerve gaps in the wrist/hand. Nerve grafting is the current clinical gold standard for surgical repair of a nerve gap; however, there are significant disadvantages. Harvest of a nerve graft (usually sural nerve from the leg) is time-consuming surgery that involves an additional surgical site, confers scarring/loss of function of the donor nerve, and patient outcomes remain poor. The benefits of our approach will therefore be higher success rates, lack of donor site issues, and cost reductions in surgery.

As part of this project, a 16 patient Phase 1 clinical trial commenced in August 2017 after gaining approval from the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency. This project represents the first implantable biomaterial device to go to clinical trial for The University of Manchester. The project is an excellent example of interdisciplinary and collaborative research with investigators from the School of Materials, the School of Biological Sciences and the University Hospital of South Manchester.

Team and funding partners

  • Adam Reid - Senior Clinical Lecturer and Honorary Consultant in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, University Hospital of South Manchester and Centre for Tissue Injury and Repair, Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health
  • Julie Gough - Professor of Biomaterials and Tissue Engineering, School of Materials, Faculty of Science and Engineering
  • Funded by i4i (NIHR) and UMIP