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6 Feb 2013

Pioneering research to manufacture cells from umbilical cord blood

The cells in process of manufacture.

A new project to develop tools for the manufacture of large quantities of medically valuable cells from umbilical cord blood has been launched by Loughborough University.

Dr Rob Thomas from the University’s School of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering has been awarded a £1.3 million research fellowship by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) for the study.

The project could lead to new treatments for serious disease, and produce stocks of manufactured blood or platelets for transfusions.  It may also form the basis of a manufactured blood bio-products industry.

Dr Thomas, a Senior Lecturer in Biomanufacturing, explains: “Within the next five years there will be substantial advances in treatments using cell based therapies.  My proposed research will provide the manufacturing tools to enable the clinical community to deliver a new cohort of treatments for serious diseases to patients in the UK as well as support an important new economic activity in the UK.  The work has evolved from projects in the EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Regenerative Medicine; a national collaboration led from Loughborough, and will continue to have many synergies with Centre projects.”

Currently clinicians rely on donated supplies of umbilical cords collected nationally in banking programmes, but as new medical treatments using cord blood have been found, demand is rising and stocks are limited. 

Umbilical cord blood contains immature cells with powerful properties to repair the human body. Cord blood is increasingly used instead of bone marrow to treat childhood blood cancers such as leukaemia as there are fewer problems with rejection of the material. It is effective, or being trialled, to treat other serious conditions such as organ failure, childhood brain damage or diabetes.

Cord blood cells could also potentially be developed to generate large numbers of high value red blood cells or platelets for transfusion, or immune system cells for immunotherapies. The project, ‘Engineering Biological Science - Processes and Systems for Haematopoietic Stem Cell Based Therapy Manufacture’ will use an engineering approach to grow blood cells in a controlled environment, test how physical conditions and chemical additives affect cell growth, and understand the relationships between cell development.

The aim of the study is to determine conditions required to grow cells in large, clinically useful numbers, and determine how tolerant the manufacturing process is for the repeated production of safe and effective cells.

Speaking about the EPSRC fellowship Mark Claydon- Smith, Lead Manufacturing the Future Manager for the EPSRC said:  “Manufacturing innovation has been repeatedly highlighted in the Government’s strategy for growth.  The EPSRC seeks to develop the research skills and knowledge needed for a successful manufacturing economy through the 21st century.  A key part of this strategy is supporting individuals with the drive, vision and intellect to create and lead new research fields with the potential to transform UK manufacturing.”

−ENDS−

Notes for editors

Article reference number: PR 13/17

Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)
The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is the UK’s main agency for funding research in engineering and the physical sciences. EPSRC invests around £800 million a year in research and postgraduate training, to help the nation handle the next generation of technological change. The areas covered range from information technology to structural engineering, and mathematics to materials science. This research forms the basis for future economic development in the UK and improvements for everyone’s health, lifestyle and culture. EPSRC works alongside other Research Councils with responsibility for other areas of research. The Research Councils work collectively on issues of common concern via Research Councils UK. www.epsrc.ac.uk

EPSRC Early Fellowship grants provide support to world-leading individuals who are delivering the highest quality research to meet UK and global priorities. The awards will develop the next generation of researchers with the greatest potential at early stages of their careers. Fellowship grants are also awarded at postdoctoral and established career stages.

Loughborough University
Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines.

It was awarded the coveted Sunday Times University of the Year 2008-09 title, and is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in national newspaper league tables. In the 2011 National Student Survey, Loughborough was voted one of the top universities in the UK, and has topped the Times Higher Education league for the Best Student Experience in England every year since the poll's inception in 2006. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, the University has been awarded six Queen's Anniversary Prizes.

It is a member of the 1994 Group of 11 leading research-intensive universities. The Group was established in 1994 to promote excellence in university research and teaching. Each member undertakes diverse and high-quality research, while ensuring excellent levels of teaching and student experience.

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