Pioneering research to manufacture cells from umbilical cord blood
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.”