A new approach to regenerative medicine

Academics: Professor J. Fisher and Professor E. Ingham, Faculties of Engineering and Biological Sciences

The development by University of Leeds researchers of acellular biological scaffolds to repair and replace human tissue has been a major advance in regenerative medicine. Key advantages of the technique include its proven clinical effectiveness, relatively short development times and lower cost compared to cell and molecular-level therapies. The Leeds research led to the founding of company Tissue Regenix, one of the most successful medical technology spinouts from a UK university in recent years.

Regenerating human tissue

The human body is sometimes unable to repair damage to soft tissues caused by disease and injury and, until recently, medics have had limited ability to intervene. A major problem with conventional methods of repairing soft tissues, such as skin grafts, has been rejection by the immune system.

The Leeds researchers removed the biological components and cells from human or animal tissues that trigger these immune reactions. The remaining natural scaffold structure could then be used as a framework for enhancing the healing and repair of existing soft tissues.

After proving the scientific principle, the Leeds team focused on creating regenerative biological scaffolds for a range of soft tissues in the human body. The methods have been patented and the spinout Tissue Regenix and NHS Blood and Transplant Tissue Services have introduced products for clinical use.

Tissue Regenix has leap-frogged other companies; dCELL® is the next technology.

Professor Alan Dardik, Yale University

Changing healthcare

The spinout Tissue Regenix was incorporated in 2006 and was floated on the Alternative Investment Market (AIM) in 2010. It employs 60 people and has a capital value of about £140 million. The company and University of Leeds researchers continue to develop a wide range of products using animal-tissue based scaffolds. The dCELL® Vascular Patch is being sold throughout Europe, bringing benefits to patients with peripheral vascular disease, and DermaPure, a dermis-repair scaffold for use in wound treatment, is being marketed  in the US. The dCELL® Meniscal Repair device, for use in the repair of damaged knees, is entering clinical trials.

NHS Blood and Transplant Tissue Services has led the introduction of acellular biological scaffolds using human tissue in the UK, and a decellularised dermis repair technology is currently being used in hospitals to treat chronic leg and foot ulcers.