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Faculty of Engineering

University chosen to lead regenerative medicine training

Thursday 9 January 2014

A University of Leeds PhD student holds a vascular bioreactor used in culturing tissue for blood vessel repairA new £3.2 million training centre aimed at keeping the UK at the cutting edge of regenerative medicine research will be based at the University of Leeds, the government announced today.

The EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine, Innovation in Medical and Biological Engineering is expected to bring 50 PhD studentships over five years to the University, allowing researchers to explore new treatments in fields including cardiovascular medicine, joint replacement, skin repair and dentistry.

Regenerative medicine has been identified by the government as one of “eight great technologies” vital to driving UK economic growth and the new centre confirms Leeds’ place as a leader in the discipline.

Professor John Fisher, Director of the University’s Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering, which will host the CDT, said: “The centre will train the next generation of researchers in a field that has the potential to change the health care system and people’s quality of life. We will be bringing together the brightest young researchers from a wide range of disciplines in a structured programme to train the specialists the UK needs.”

The centre will be a hub for innovation in regenerative medicine, with 15 companies already signed up, and will involve academics from across the University’s faculties of Engineering, Medicine and Health, and Biological Sciences, its schools of Chemistry and Design and the Leeds University Business School.

Research projects already underway at the University include creating biological scaffolds to repair tissues by regenerating a patient's own cells and developing practical stem cell-based therapies for musculoskeletal, cardiovascular and neural problems.

Dr Joanne Tipper, programme director for the new CDT, said: “This is young science with huge potential. Regenerative medicine and tissue engineering opens the possibility of intervening in the progression of conditions at a much earlier stage than is now feasible. Joint replacement, for example, is an end-stage treatment. It isn’t done until the cartilage is extraordinarily damaged. If we can get in earlier to repair and prevent that damage, we can change people’s lives.”

The doctoral trainees will enter a four-year programme that will first train them in the field and then guide them through their PhD research.

Dr Tipper said: “We will be looking at applicants from very varied backgrounds—from disciplines like chemistry, biology, mathematics, computer science, astrophysics, robotics, and aviation engineering— and bringing all that expertise to bear on the problems facing us.”

She added: “The program will allow each student to develop their own bespoke training program. If you are an engineer, you may be concentrating in your first year on biology or chemistry, while a chemist may want to do engineering. The taught element of the program allows each student to build a firm foundation for their later research.”

The first cohort of doctoral trainees will be recruited early in the New Year, with ten students expected to be recruited annually. Students will earn an integrated MSc at the end of their second year.

“Unlike a traditional programme, where a PhD student will typically be recruited straight onto a particular research project, the centre will first train the researcher, allow them to get to know the field, and then chose the field that suits them,” Dr Tipper said.

The centre is part of a £390 million national program, allocated by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), that represents the UK's largest ever investment in postgraduate training in engineering and physical sciences.

The University is also heading CDTs in Bioenergy and Fluid Dynamics and is a partner in four doctoral training centres hosted by other institutions, including a new Industrial Doctorate Centre in Carbon Capture and Storage and Cleaner Fossil Energy hosted by the University of Nottingham, which was announced today.

Professor Mohamed Pourkashanian, Head of the University’s Energy Technology & Innovation Initiative (ETII), who will lead the University’s work for the energy centre, said: “We are aiming to train the next generation of leaders in research and industry. We will be producing a new breed of engineers capable of working across disciplines with a firm grasp of the engineering challenges of their projects but the economic, social and ethical implications.”

Three CDTs announced by the EPSRC in November—in Soft Matter and Functional Interfaces (hosted by the Durham University), Integrated Tribology (hosted by the University of Sheffield) and Nuclear Fission - Next Generation Nuclear (hosted by the University of Manchester)—will also have major contributions from Leeds.

Professor Peter Jimack, Dean of the University’s Faculty of Engineering, said: “It is testament to the excellence of our research and teaching that the University of Leeds has been chosen to host three CDTs and will be partnering in four others. Investing in the training of young researchers in engineering and physical sciences is of vital importance for the University and the wider economy.”

Image: A University of Leeds PhD student holds a vascular bioreactor used in culturing tissue for blood vessel repair.

Further Information:

The CDT’s website is www.regenerative-medicine.leeds.ac.uk.

Contact: Chris Bunting, Senior Press Officer, University of Leeds; phone: +44 113 343 2049 or email c.j.bunting@leeds.ac.uk.