Bioengineer wins ERC funding to develop implant for treating cartilage damage

6 September 2017

Professor Daniel Kelly, Director of the Trinity Centre for Bioengineering, and Investigator at AMBER, has been announced as a recipient of the European Research Council’s (ERC) Proof of Concept Grants.

This is the third ERC grant awarded to Professor Kelly and the 12th ERC grant awarded to researchers in AMBER, the Science Foundation Ireland-funded materials science centre based in Trinity College Dublin, since its launch in 2013.

This funding will provide Professor Kelly with €150,000 over 18 months to enable him to verify the innovation potential of ideas arising from his existing ERC funded projects, which focus on a novel implant for treating cartilage damage.

Professor Kelly won the funding for his project entitled ‘ANCHOR’. The aim of ‘ANCHOR’ is to develop and commercialise a new medicinal product for cartilage regeneration. Cartilage damage is a relatively common type of injury, with the majority of cases involving the knee joint.

Damage can occur due to injury or wear and tear, and if not satisfactorily treated can lead to osteoarthritis (OA). OA represents a significant economic burden to patients and society in the world, estimates are that 9.6% of men and 18.0% of women, aged over 60 years, have symptomatic osteoarthritis, with 80% of those having limitations in movement and 25% saying they cannot perform their major daily activities of life*. There is currently no cure and in the most serious cases, the entire joint may need to be replaced with an artificial joint, such as a knee replacement prosthesis.

Professor Kelly’s proposed product comprises a cartilage-derived 3D scaffold, which acts as a template to guide the growth of new tissue by recruiting endogenous bone marrow derived stem cells. What is unique about the therapy is that the scaffolds will be supported by an array of 3D printed biodegradable polymer posts that will anchor the implants into the bone underneath the cartilage.

If successful, such an implant would form the basis of a truly transformative therapy for treating degenerative joint diseases like arthritis. The funding will also allow Professor Kelly to employ a post-doctoral researcher.

Professor Kelly said: “At present the treatment options for OA are limited to surgical replacement of the diseased joint, with a prosthesis. Joint replacement prosthesis also have a finite lifespan, making them unsuitable for the growing population of younger and more active patients requiring treatment for OA."

"Our 3D printed polymer posts will anchor the implant into the bone and will be porous to stimulate the migration of stem cells from the bone marrow into the body of the scaffold. While various scaffolds like this have been available for some time, they have had limited success, partly because scaffolds need to be anchored securely due to the high forces experienced within the joint. Our 3D printed posts overcome this problem.”

Professor Michael Morris, Director of AMBER, added: “I’d like to congratulate Professor Kelly on successfully securing his third ERC award. He is doing ground-breaking work in his field that will really make a difference to society. This award demonstrates both the excellence and also the quality of the research team that has been built in AMBER.”

Professor Kelly’s project has resulted from outputs and expertise from his previous ERC Starting Grant and his current ERC Consolidator Grant. As part of the ERC Starting Grant STEMREPAIR, he developed a range of porous cartilage derived scaffolds. He is currently developing 3D printing strategies as part of his ERC Consolidator grant JOINTPRINT.

Media Contact

Thomas Deane, Press Officer for the Faculty of Engineering, Mathematics and Science | deaneth@tcd.ie | +353 1 896 4685

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