Biomedical Materials researcher attends conference with the help of the SWCF

Biomaterials 26th European Conference on Biomaterials—Liverpool (August 2014)

Aisling O’ Carroll obtained her BSc in Biomedical Science (1st Class Hons) from National University of Ireland, Maynooth, Ireland (NUIM). She received a Special Research Scholarship and began her PhD studies in the School of Pharmacy, Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) in the area of medical devices in October 2013. Her research involves the development of a biomaterial with improved biocompatibility to modulate the Foreign Body Response. Upon receiving a generous Simon Wolff Charitable Foundation (SWCF) travel grant, Aisling attended ESB 2014 Annual Conference, the 26th European Conference on Biomaterials (www.esb2014.org), held from August 31st to September 3rd, 2014 in the Liverpool Echo Arena. This event was organised by the European Society of Biomaterials, and also encompassed the 11th Young Scientists Forum, aimed at postgraduate students, encouraging discussion and participation in biomaterials education and training, career development and research opportunities.

This major and prestigious conference in the field of biomaterials and tissue engineering, provided a platform to communicate the research I have undertaken to date, as part of my PhD studies at QUB. The work I presented detailed strategies developed within the School of Pharmacy, QUB, to address a significant clinical complication with the use of biomaterials for implantation into the body, known as the Foreign Body Response (FBR). The FBR is essentially a biological process that occurs as the body attempts to protect its tissues against a foreign object. This process would be desirable against material, such as shrapnel that has become lodged in the body, but in the case of an implantable medical device, such as a biosensor or a prothesis, the process of the FBR can actually damage the device and prevent it from functioning properly. Unfortunately the body cannot differentiate harmful foreign material from a device intentionally implanted by a clinician for the benefit of patient health.

My PhD project is directed towards the development of materials that mitigate or prevent the FBR. The potential end application of these materials will be in the design and manufacture of implantable biosensors, particularly those for the continuous monitoring of blood glucose in diabetes. While the technology already exists to fabricate glucose sensors, once implanted into the physiological environment they can rapidly lose functionality and produce inaccurate readings. The failure of these devices is largely due to attack from the body through the process of the FBR. The body recognises the device as foreign material, and attempts to isolate it from the surrounding healthy tissue.

At present, implantable glucose sensors have a lengthy tissue equilibration time. In some cases, it can take from 2-10 hours before time measurements can be determined. The FBR greatly affects this phase of sensor instability. The formation of a fibrotic capsule impedes the diffusion of glucose and oxygen analytes which often results in disparities and a lag time between concentrations of glucose in the fluid surrounding the sensor and those in the plasma (Woodward 1982). Studies have shown that the fibrotic capsule, when adequately vascularised, can sustain glucose and oxygen permeation for at least 3 months. However, as the FBR ensues, the permeability of the capsule changes and amount of vasculature contained within the capsule decreases, hindering sensor functioning (Gilligan 1994). Aforementioned, the FBR severely affects implant longevity – with duration of most approved glucose sensors lasting only 3-7 days (Klonoff 2007). Device removal is painful and inconvenient for the patient as well as costly to the healthcare system. Attendance at ESB 2014 was of huge importance to my PhD studies as it provided an unparalleled opportunity to learn more about the field of biomaterials through attending seminars, symposia, poster sessions, and plenary talks delivered by world experts of my field of research. This offered several opportunities for collaboration, networking and engagement with international industrial and commercial partners. I also developed my communication skills by presenting my own PhD work and research outcomes, engaging in knowledge transfer and dissemination – a pivotal element of my scientific career. I would like to thank the Simon Wolff Charitable Foundation as I believe the opportunity to travel to this conference was of fundamental benefit in both my PhD training and personal development.

Aisling O’ Carroll
Postgraduate Research Student,
Queen’s University Belfast, Northern Ireland.

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