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DCU researches synthetic bone and soft tissue to replace human grafts
Thursday 10 May 2007

Dr Lisa Looney
Dr Lisa Looney

Missing bones after an accident? Arteries destroyed by disease? An international team of DCU researchers have begun work on ways of producing synthetic hard and soft tissue for humans that could revolutionise treatment for people affected by disease and trauma.

The European Commission funded project, costing about €1.2m, is being coordinated by Dr. Lisa Looney, Director of the DCU Materials Processing Research Centre, and a senior lecturer in the School of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering.

Dr. Looney said: “There are several circumstances under which it is necessary to replace human tissue, either on a permanent or temporary basis. The current ‘gold standard’ in replacing both bone and vascular tissue is to use grafts of bone and soft tissue from other sites in the patient, but this can be problematic.

“Tissue may not be available, and the ‘double’ procedure of two operations, one to harvest the bone or soft tissue, and another to ‘fit’ it in the replacement site, incurs higher risk of infection, pain and prolongs hospital stays.

“Synthetic alternatives do exist, but haven’t found widespread application due to difficulties in producing the optimum material structure and properties, in a repeatable and controllable manner.

“The research at DCU will study a number of innovative manufacturing processes with a view to achieving this control and repeatability, while refining the architecture, strength and texture of the tissue substitutes and measuring living cells response to these new synthetic replacements.”

Obviously the techniques will differ for soft vascular tissue and bone replacements – the group is studying both.

Dr Looney is joined by other senior investigators in this work, Dr Garrett McGuinness, Dr Joseph Stokes and Dr Dermot Brabazon. DCU’s vascular health research centre is collaborating with the project as well as engineers in ITT Dublin.

The research is being funded under the EU’s Marie Curie Early Stage Training (EST) programme, and will be implemented by seven postgraduate level researchers over the next 3 years. These highly qualified young researchers have been recruited from across Europe (Poland, Spain (2), Hungary (2) and further afield (Turkey and China), from a range of disciplines (mechanical, biomedical and industrial engineering, biology and biotechnology)

The synthetic materials being used in the research are, for bone, calcium phosphate bioceramics mixed with various bio polymers and for vascular work, special polymers called hydrogels.