UK funds research into next-gen plastic implants

November 06, 2017

The development of next-generation polymer-based medical implants has gotten a boost from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the United Kingdom’s main funding agency for engineering and physical sciences research. The agency has awarded a £1,053,480 ($1.3 million) grant to Rylie Green, PhD, from Imperial College London 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.

Rylie Green, Imperial College London
Riley Green, PhD, Faculty of Engineering, Department of Bioengineering, Imperial College London. Image courtesy Imperial College London.

The current drawback with conventional medical implants is that they can trigger inflammatory responses that are difficult to control, which can lead to rejection, notes a press release from the college. However, there is growing evidence that the body is less likely to reject implants made from plastic.

“The funding will be an important step for both my research and the future of plastic-based medical implants. This research could help to improve the quality of implants so that they are not rejected by the body so easily. Ultimately, this could lead to improvements in cochlear implants or new types of bionic eye implants,” said Green, who is a Senior Lecturer at the school’s Department of Bioengineering.

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 minimize the formation of scar tissue, said the press release.

Her team also will use funds from the project to demonstrate the safety of these new types of implants and the potential benefit to patients by leading public outreach activities and interacting with industry partners.

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

The funding is part of the EPSRC Healthcare Technologies Challenge, which awarded grants to eight researchers last week to address long-term health challenges through the development of innovative healthcare technologies. The other projects that received grants included improvements in the use of endoscopes to detect early-stage cancer and applying the flexibility of the human brain to refine control of prosthetic hands.

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