Interview with Prof Tanya Levingstone
What is your main area of research?
My research is in the area of Bioengineering focussing mainly on the development of new biomaterial and tissue engineering solutions for bone and cartilage repair.
How did you become interested in this area of engineering?
My research has always been motivated by the goal of achieving positive impacts for people. Cartilage injury and disease has a major impact on patients, causing pain, limiting mobility and overall negatively affecting their quality of life. It is therefore a hugely important research area and one that I am very passionate about. Tissue engineering is emerging as a revolutionary way to repair cartilage damage and has massive potential to really improve patient's lives. It is a very interesting and rewarding area to work in.
In 2016 you discovered a new material that repaired damaged knee cartilage on a horse. Can you tell us about this discovery and the impact it has had?
My research led to the development of a biomaterial scaffold for cartilage repair. This scaffold is made from collagen, the most abundant protein present in the human body, and has unique properties in terms of its composition, porosity, pore architecture, biocompatibility and ability to promote cartilage repair. In 2016 we were presented with a case of a young show jumping horse with very severe damage to the cartilage in both her knee (stifle) joints. In conjunction with collaborators in UCD Veterinary School, we implanted our scaffold into the areas of cartilage damage. The outcomes for the horse were really positive and we were able to see that the damaged cartilage was replaced with new tissue. The horse recovered quickly and was able to return to competitive show jumping. This study represented an important step forward in the development of this cartilage repair scaffold. We have since started clinical trials to assess the efficacy of this scaffold in human patients and hope in the future to achieve regulatory approval for the scaffold to enable it to be sold to patients worldwide.
What research are you working on at present?
My current research remains focussed on developing solutions for cartilage injuries, focussing in particular on ways to speed up cartilage repair by incorporating drugs and therapeutic factors into materials and enabling them to be delivered to injured tissue in a controlled way. I am also working on new methods for fabricating scaffolds for cartilage and bone repair using Bioprinting - a new technique that allows much greater control over scaffold properties. I am optimistic that this research will lead to new, more advanced solutions that will further improve the outcomes for patients suffering with cartilage damage.
What advice would you give to someone interested in working in this field that you wish someone had given you when you were starting out?
I would really recommend a career in engineering to everyone. Engineers play a hugely important role in designing solutions to problems in the world around us. Engineering offers excellent career opportunities and great opportunities to travel. Biomedical engineering is a particularly rewarding career as it focuses on developing solutions for healthcare problems and provides the opportunity to improve outcomes for patients suffering from various diseases and disabilities. Bioengineering is a rapidly growing field and many of the top companies in this area are located here in Ireland. As a result the jobs market here for bioengineers is excellent and a diverse range of highly rewarding careers are on offer. For anyway interested in Bioengineering as a career I would really recommend contacting us in the School of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering in DCU about our Degree in Biomedical Engineering and coming along to speak with us at one of our Open Days.