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EPSRC Supported PhD with Integrated Studies: Formulation of a Novel Suspending Medium for Immobilised Culture and Tissue Processing

University of Birmingham - School of Chemical Engineering

Qualification Type: PhD
Location: Birmingham
Funding for: UK Students, EU Students, International Students
Funding amount: £18,609 p.a.
Hours: Full Time
Placed On: 12th September 2019
Closes: 12th December 2019


Funding: £18,609 Tax free bursary, p.a. plus fees paid

Academic Supervisors: Prof Liam Grover, Amy Naylor.

Bone damage following blast or ballistic wounding results in the mechanic destruction and death of tissue at the site of injury. Surgeons debride away the tissue, removing any necrotic regions and this generally enables complete regeneration of the defect. At present, however, nobody knows the nature of damage to the tissue, as it is not possible to evaluate structure or cell response in the hard boney fragments. Our hypothesis is that high energy impact in the bone results in destruction of the osteocytic network that penetrates through it. Currently there are no methods that enable full characterisation of such fragments in anatomically relevant positions within the fracture. 

We have pioneered the use of a structured or fluid-gel materials as support matrices in which cell bearing gels can be immobilised, allowing for the construction of large and complex tissues [1,2]. We have recently explored the possibility of using these materials to support and process tissue fragments such that the may be maintaining in an anatomically relevant configuration. The use of fluid gels to suspend fractured bone is exemplified in the diagram below.

This project will seek to refine the supporting medium so that it is possible to maintain vital tissue in suspended culture.  Doing this will allow us to evaluate the capacity of the tissue to heal in an anatomically representative environment. The student will have to manufacture a supporting phase that can mediate oxygen and nutrient transport while supporting the suspension of a relatively dense tissue [3]. The ultimate aim will be to incorporate these new materials into a novel tissue processing methodology called CLARITY, which will allow us to visual the distribution of the osteocyte network within the fracture fragments. 

The project will be supported by DSTL, who will provide us access to blasted and ballistically damaged animal bones and the appropriate antibodies to visualise the cell network. The project will be the world’s first example of fully suspended organ culture and we believe that the suspending material could be utilised to suspend a variety of complex tissues for study. 

[1] Cooke, Megan E., et al. "Structuring of hydrogels across multiple length scales for biomedical applications." Advanced Materials 30.14 (2018): 1705013.

[2] Moxon, Samuel R., et al. "Suspended manufacture of biological structures." Advanced Materials 29.13 (2017): 1605594.

[3] Iordachescu, Alexandra, et al. "An in vitro model for the development of mature bone containing an osteocyte network." Advanced Biosystems 2.2 (2018): 1700156.

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