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Jun 7

UCL Centre for Nerve Engineering established to develop new solutions for nerve damage

Katie Konyn

in News

Monday 22 May saw the official launch of the Centre for Nerve Engineering (CNE) at UCL. The CNE will draw on physical and life science disciplines from across the university to engineer nerve repair solutions and translate these to clinic.

  • The UCL Centre for Nerve Engineering (CNE) was officially launched by founders Dr Rebecca Shipley (UCL Mechanical Engineering) and Dr James Phillips (Biomaterials & Tissue Engineering, UCL Eastman Dental Institute) at a networking event on Monday 22 May 2017.

  • The clinical problem:

  • The CNE founders have long standing collaborations with clinical partners at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, the Peripheral Nerve Injury Unit at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital and the Eastman Dental Hospital, which allowed them to identify a significant need for improved diagnosis and treatment for patients with peripheral nerve or spinal cord injuries. Addressing this clinical need necessitates an improved understanding of how nerves behave and grow, as well as developing new technologies for the diagnosis and treatment of nerve damage.

    Side effects of nerve and spinal cord damage include significant pain, loss of sensation in the limbs and skin, and paralysis. There are a number of possible causes ranging from trauma/ damage due to accidents or surgery, or as a side-effect of other health conditions such as cancers, shingles or diabetes. Millions of people worldwide live with the disabling effects of nerve and spinal cord injuries, with significant and persistent impact on their health and productivity (as well as that of their carers). Diagnosing patients often relies on qualitative analysis during patient-doctor consultations and treatments such as surgery or physiotherapy, which have significant scope for improvement in restoring patient health.

  • The research & development strategy:

  • The new Centre will address this unmet clinical need by leveraging expertise across a broad range of disciplines, from basic science through to clinical application, to accelerate the research & development process. Key areas of focus include applying advanced imaging techniques to diagnose and monitor nerve damage and repair and the development of new regenerative medicine technologies to enhance current clinical surgical repair techniques.

    For instance, one pioneering area of regenerative medicine research aims to develop living artificial neural tissue which can be implanted into patients for nervous system repair. Engineered Neural Tissue (EngNT) technology was developed by Dr James Phillips and uses therapeutic cells embedded in tailored hydrogels to support and guide regenerating neurons. The CNE team have numerous associated projects that span biomechanics and material characterisation, computational modelling, tissue engineering and cell, drug and gene therapies to improve performance and clinical suitability. The team are now working with UCLB and the UCL Technology Fund to translate the technology from the lab to the clinic.

    Advanced medical imaging acquisition and analysis is another CNE focus area, which will underpin both diagnosis of nerve injury and monitoring the effectiveness of new treatments. Detailed information about nerve damage and regeneration at the cellular level in patients is not currently available to clinicians using routine imaging techniques. Having the ability to use non-invasive imaging technology to probe nerve structure at high resolution would allow nerve damage to be diagnosed earlier and allow for more accurate prediction of outcomes and better planning of surgical interventions as well as opening up new options for the quantitative analysis of treatments.

  • “We are delighted to launch the UCL Centre for Nerve Engineering, and aim to bring together the UCL community to create a national centre of excellence in this unique and exciting area. We are very grateful for support from our Departments (Mechanical Engineering, Biomaterials & Tissue Engineering) and Faculties (Engineering, Medical Sciences) as well as the Institute for Healthcare Engineering.”

    Dr Rececca Shipley and Dr James Phillips

  • The future

  • Initial milestones for the CNE include establishing a UCL network that spans research scientists and clinicians dedicated to tackling nerve repair problems. To this end, James and Becky are very keen to hear from new collaborators – to get in touch and keep up-to-date with CNE news and events, please visit: www.nerve-engineering.ucl.ac.uk and follow the CNE on Twitter (@UCL_NerveEng).