Idea Fund Award : Using everyday items to manufacture complex scaffolds for tissue regeneration

We are delighted to announce our first ‘I’ve got an Idea’ Fund award of 2023 to Dr Ramneek K. Johal, a research scientist in the fields of biomaterials and regenerative medicine. As well as working on defined projects, Ramneek likes experimenting in her own time to seek novel solutions to the problems encountered in the lab.

Collagen I is one of the most abundant proteins found within the human body. Its role is two-fold: to provide a suitable framework (mechanical strength) for tissues and to foster cell attachment and function.  Bovine and human collagen I are highly conserved at the molecular level and bovine collagen is widely used in tissue engineering due to its low price and abundance.  It is particularly useful for the development of scaffolds for soft tissue repair and regeneration such as skin. 

Skin provides a mechanical barrier to the human body protecting against invading pathogens and the elements. Damage to the skin can occur and in the UK ~ 175,000 people attend Accident and Emergency with burns and scalds every year (www.  Thus, there is a need for engineered replacements/scaffolds that mimic the skins naturally complex 3D architecture.   

There are a number of techniques that can be used for the manufacture of 3D scaffolds including ice-templating.  This is a technique whereby a suspension of collagen is frozen, with ice crystals forming a labyrinth like architecture (Figure 1). The collagen is trapped at the ice crystal boundaries, and when the ice is sublimated using a freeze drier the collagen is left behind forming a porous scaffold.  Many factors can influence the scaffold architecture including the freezing temperature, rate of freezing and the shape of the mould.  Currently, the moulds are made by the lab’s workshop, however they are both time-consuming and expensive to manufacture. If a mould doesn’t correctly influence the geometry and pore size of the current scaffold, it’s back to square one in terms of design and manufacture (with added expense!).

Ramneek’s idea is to use cheap, everyday household items such as tea light holders, plumbing fittings, small toys and baking trays as moulds. By varying the freeze-drying temperature/freezing rate she will be able to determine how these everyday moulds influence geometry, pore size and porosity of collagen scaffolds.   Scanning electron microscopy will be used to visualise the formed scaffold interior.  The data produced by this project will help both academic and industrial researchers in the development of novel (and potentially cheaper) scaffolds for tissue regeneration. We wish Ramneek well in her novel experimentation.

We are proud to continue to fund a fascinatingly wide diversity of technical ideas.

About Alison Kidd

Research Psychologist
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