Melt ElectroWriting: beating sight loss with revolutionary technology
- Grant holder: Dr Lucy Bosworth, Research Fellow in the Department of Eye & Vision Science
- Institution: University of Liverpool
- Grant award: £20,000
Why is this research needed?
Regenerative medicine has enormous potential to treat a multitude of currently incurable conditions – including eye diseases. Technology that allows us to fabricate new tissues to replace those damaged by disease or injury has the power to transform the lives of people with sight loss.
Melt ElectroWriting (MEW) is a new technology, appropriate for regenerative medicine, that manufactures micron-sized 3D scaffolds, which can be used in tissue engineering to facilitate the growth of cells. To put this in context, a micron, or micrometre, is one millionth of a metre. A human red blood cell measures about 5 microns across.
Dr Bosworth is the first person to explore the potential of this technology for generating ocular biomaterials, which could be used to treat multiple eye diseases.
What is the aim of the research?
Pioneered at Queensland University of Technology (QUT, Australia), MEW is a state-of-the-art technique that incorporates electrospinning and 3D printing technologies. The tiny 3D scaffolds that MEW produces can be designed to mimic the structure of different types of tissues, which are then able to support cell growth and ‘trick’ the cells into behaving as required. These precisely engineered scaffolds or structures are reproducible and handleable, which means that they could also be used as medical devices to treat diseased or injured tissues of the eye.
In November 2018, Dr Bosworth visited QUT where she learned to use the MEW technology to fabricate scaffolds for studies back in Liverpool. In 2019, Sight Research UK launched a fundraising appeal to enable Dr Bosworth to purchase her own, custom-built MEW kit, that would allow her to develop her research.
How will this research help to beat sight loss faster?
Dr Bosworth’s pilot data has demonstrated MEW’s potential to produce biomaterials that could be used to treat a range of sight-threatening conditions including glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration, as well as to repair damaged conjunctival and corneal tissues.
Ultimately, MEW’s success will lie in the ability to restore a person’s sight – but the path to achieving that goal is long, with many stages along the way. All biomaterials research projects have to follow the same series of separate, but linked milestones, which progress from project start, through the early stages of technological readiness and the lead up to the clinical testing that is required in humans, through to full clinical assessment. This process, from start to finish, can take at least 10 years.
Dr Bosworth and her colleagues will undertake a series of projects simultaneously, using MEW to create different tissues of the eye. Their studies using the MEW kit will also pass through a series of milestones, which are effectively checkpoints for the project to either continue as planned, continue but on a changed plan, or to stop (in the case of an inability to create the right scaffold).
In the first instance, MEW’s success will be judged in terms of its ability to create reproducible scaffolds that support both the attachment and behaviours of cells, for example, a fabricated corneal cell would need to behave like a corneal cell.
We will keep in touch with Dr Bosworth as her studies progress, and provide further updates on her fascinating research journey!
We are immensely grateful to the Hospital Saturday Fund, the Dowager Countess Eleanor Peel Trust, the Ray Harris Charitable Trust, and the Douglas Arter Foundation for their generosity in funding this equipment.
As well as helping to treat diseases such as glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration, and retinal disease, MEW could be used to repair damaged corneas and conjunctival tissues.
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