Research aims to alleviate rejection of plastic implants

Funding has been made available to create plastic implants that are less likely to be rejected by the body.

Plastic implants

The plastic-based medical implants will be developed by Imperial College’s Dr Rylie Green who has received over £1m from EPSRC to take the work forward.

Conventional medical implants can trigger inflammatory responses that are difficult to control and can lead to rejection, a situation that plastic medical implants could alleviate.

Dr Green from Imperial’s Department of Bioengineering will use EPSRC’s funds to explore new types of plastics that are combined with natural body proteins. These will form implants that encourage interaction with surrounding nerves to prevent rejection.

“This research could help to improve the quality of implants so that they are not rejected by the body so easily,” said Dr Green. “Ultimately, this could lead to improvements in cochlear implants or new types of bionic eye implants.”

According to Imperial, Dr Green will bring together concepts from tissue engineering, plastic design and bionic device technology to create soft and flexible plastic bioelectronics that are more compatible at the cellular level with the body, which will prevent rejection and minimise the formation of scar tissue.

Government regulations around use of these implants are complex, which adds to the cost of their development.

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The team will also use funds from the project to demonstrate the safety of these new types of implants and the potential benefit to patients. To do so, they will try to improve the public’s perception and understanding of these technologies by leading public outreach activities and interacting with industry partners.

Dr Green added: “These activities will be key to moving plastic-based medical implants towards use in humans and creating high-resolution implants that improve patient quality of life.”

Dr Green is one of eight researchers awarded grants to address long-term health challenges through the development of innovative healthcare technologies.

The EPSRC Healthcare Technologies Challenge Awards winners will use their share of £8m in funding to address long-term health challenges through the development of innovative healthcare technologies.

These include next-generation prosthetic hands and endoscopy devices to cancer treatment devices controlled by the body’s electrical signals and optimising surgical interventions in the hip.

Project summaries:

Nanoplasmonic Metapixels for Multidimensional Endoscopy

The project will look to improve the use of endoscopes, long, flexible tubes with a light and video camera to detect oesophageal or lung cancers, by designing specialist video cameras. The cameras will be designed to detect properties of light that human eyes are blind to, and will also allow for quick analysis of tissue taken out of the body before it is sent to a pathologist to check for cancer. Led by: Dr Sarah Bohndiek, University of Cambridge (EPSRC grant: £1,117,121). Project partner: Papworth Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

MicroTotal Pre Analytical Systems (MTPAS): Near-patient Approach to the Preparation of Circulating Biomarkers for Next-Generation Sensing

Cell-free nucleic acids (cfNAs) can be used for rapid diagnosis and prognosis as biomarkers in blood sampling for cancer and sepsis diagnosis, and transplant monitoring but are not implemented clinically in daily practice due to a number of barriers, including cost. The project aims to develop sustainable new solutions to reduce the overall cost of sample preparation and increase the robustness and reliability of biomarkers. Novel advanced materials will be integrated in cartridges to allow instant preservation of the sample until analysis. Led by: Dr Maïwenn Kersaudy-Kerhoas, Heriot-Watt University (EPSRC grant: £946,812)

Sensorimotor Learning for Control of Prosthetic Limbs

Acquiring a new skill, for example learning to use chopsticks, requires accurate motor commands to be sent from the brain to the hand, and reliable sensory feedback from the hand to the brain. Inspired by this sensorimotor interplay, this project aims to utilise the flexibility of the brain in learning to control a prosthetic hand. Supported by a multi-disciplinary network of collaborators, the research will culminate in a clinical trial involving people with limb reduction. Led by: Dr Kianoush Nazarpour, Newcastle University (EPSRC grant: £1,005,664)

Adaptive, Multi-Scale, Data-Infused Biomechanical Models for Cardiac Diagnostic and Prognostic Assessment

While heart failure, a complex syndrome that results in a fundamental reduction in the ability of heart muscle to effectively pump and deliver blood to the body, is easily observed, dissecting its underlying causes and predicting how it will progress or respond to therapy remain open challenges. The project will address these challenges by bringing together elements of microscopy, rheology and medical imaging to create a modelling framework to assess the heart and provide detailed information to aid diagnosis. Led by: Dr David Nordsletten, King’s College London (EPSRC grant: £1,101,075)

Wireless Communication with Cells Towards Bioelectronic Treatments of the Future

The project will develop new bioelectronic devices which will use electrochemical-based wireless technology to avoid invasive surgery, and can be applied to treating diseases such as cancer via the control of the body’s electrical signals. It will look to increase understanding of how cellular electrical talk malfunctions underpin disease and broaden electroceutical therapeutic intervention from nervous system application to other cell and tissue types. Led by: Dr Frankie Rawson, University of Nottingham (EPSRC grant: £950,798)

Mathematical Modelling led Design of Tissue-Engineered Constructs: A New Paradigm for Peripheral Never Repair (NerveDesign)

NerveDesign will develop new treatments for peripheral nerve injury, a debilitating condition which can cause loss of sensation and muscle control, chronic pain and permanent disability. The project will feature a multidisciplinary approach combining mathematical modelling with state-of-the-art in vitro and in vivo experimentation, to design and test devices to bridge the gap between damaged nerves. Led by: Dr Rebecca Shipley, UCL (EPSRC grant: £1,054,517)

Enhanced Surgical Treatments for Hip Osteoarthritis

By developing an anatomical hip simulator, the project looks to improve the understanding of factors leading to impingement, a condition which can lead to hip replacements needing to be replaced themselves. This improved understanding will then lead to better guidance on how surgery should be performed, and researchers will work with orthopaedic surgeons to integrate it into clinical practice. Led by: Dr Sophie Williams, University of Leeds (EPSRC grant: £998,918)