Scientists at the University of Nottingham have won a £1.2 million grant for research into the engineering of nanomaterials that could one day transform the healthcare industry.
The research will focus on developing a way to produce polymer-based nanocomposites for use as surgical implants that have the ability to break down safely within the body once they have done their job.
The hope is that one day these polymer nanocomposites could replace metal implants, such as those used in bone surgery.
The funding, awarded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, will run for four years from October 2012.
By the end of that period, researchers expect to be able to make demonstration models so the work can progress to the clinical trials stage.
Nanotechnology challenges that the researchers hope to tackle include:
- How to produce nanoparticles of consistent size and shape. University spin-out company Promethean Particles will use its method of manufacturing nanoparticles suspended in water to achieve this. Nanoparticles will be made of a material similar to the mineral component of bone for use in orthopaedics.
- How to disperse the nanoparticles effectively throughout the nanocomposite.
- How to control the degradation of the nanocomposite. Researchers will work with industry partners who are experts in the manufacture of degradable polymers and composites for medical use.
- How to scale up manufacture to commercially viable levels.
- Few laboratory nanocomposites have been translated into products because of difficulties in ensuring consistency of quality in mass production. Collaboration with industry partners will ensure that scaleability will be achievable from the start of the design process.
University professor and pro-vice-chancellor Chris Rudd said: “This grant represents a major opportunity for the University of Nottingham to lead the way in the global industrial development of nanoparticles and composites.
“It is the only way the cutting-edge nano-engineering carried out here can be translated to have real impact on the world outside the laboratory.
“Our collaboration with industry will produce the smart healthcare materials of the future and provide huge scope for economic benefits through the development of new material types, technology lines and new companies.”