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Department of Materials

A female scientist looks down a microscope

Biomaterials

Our Department'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 (Department of Chemical Engineering and Analytical Science) and Professor Alberto Saiani (Department 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 10 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 (Department 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."

Dr Guillaume Saint-Pierre who co-founded the company in 2014 with Professors Miller and Saiani and was its first CEO until June 2018 said: "It was a unique experience to be able to take a novel technology from academia to industry. This is a great technology raising significant interest wherever I go. One of the most exiting aspects is that it is an enabling technology, allowing scientists in academia and industry to do novel research using a platform of innovative materials that can be tailored to their needs, whether it is defined 3D functional scaffolds for cell culture, tissue engineering and tissue model generation or injectable and sprayable hydrogels for the in-vivo delivery of stem cells and/or drugs. The commercialisation of the materials will hopefully allow unlocking their full potential by making them widely available to scientists across the world".

Professor Alberto Saiani said: "This has been an astonishing journey through which we have moved from fundamental material science to process development to create a commercial product, thus showing the value that research can create and the importance of University seed funds. On our way we collaborated, and are still collaborating, with a number of great scientists across the University. We are now working closely with Manchester BIOGEL, UMIP (University of Manchester Intellectual Property) and the University to develop the next generation of materials. It is also rewarding to see now scientist using the materials in their research and publishing innovative and exiting new work".

The team

  • Aline Miller - Professor of Biomolecular Engineering, Department of Chemical Engineering and Analytical Science
  • Alberto Saiani - Professor of Molecular Materials, Department of Materials

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 Department 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, Department of Materials, Faculty of Science and Engineering
  • Funded by i4i (NIHR) and UMIP