Sunday, 23 August 2015

ISTM Women in Engineering: Dr Hareklea Markides

Dr. Hareklea Markides is a post-doctoral researcher in Tissue Engineering, working in the Regenerative Medicine research group at ISTM. She studied for her PhD at the Doctoral Training Centre in Regenerative Medicine, a partnership between Loughborough, Keele and Nottingham Universities, together with industrial and clinical partners.

You work in Tissue Engineering. What does that mean?

Tissue Engineering is a pioneering field which aims to utilise engineering principles to develop novel strategies to replace and regenerate human cells, tissues and organs in order to restore normal function. The field thrives on the cross collaboration of multiple disciplines to develop tissue engineering approaches to achieve these goals. It harnesses the tools and knowledge developed by material scientists, molecular biologists, engineers and clinicians for the design and development of cellular therapies to treat a broad range of diseases and conditions. The field has experienced several exciting breakthroughs over the years; for example, the development of the first functioning human tissue engineered trachea.

My personal research interests lie in developing technologies to enable research to move out of the lab and closer to the patient. One of the more crucial issues facing tissue engineers at the moment is the ability to control and monitor cells after they have been implanted in the body. I am therefore working in a group where we aim to develop magnetic nanoparticle - based technologies to achieve this. My work involves a lot of trial and error and even more troubleshooting - which I love!! Every day is a challenge and the great thing is that the solution can come from anywhere, from a visit to the mechanical workshop to an elaborate modelling program. The multidisciplinary nature of my work also mean that I am able to collaborate with other research groups which gets me out of the lab and interacting with people on a daily basis. My hope is that one day my work will enable a wide range of therapies to cross over to the clinical side and therefore help patients with debilitating diseases.

What is an exciting project you are working on at the moment?

At the moment I am working on an exciting project to develop a magnetic nanoparticle - based approach to treat sever bone injuries. By attaching and manipulating magnetic nanoparticles tagged to stem cells with an external magnetic field we are able to direct these cells to become bone cells after they have been implanted in the body. This therefore promotes repair of the damaged bone and with time function will be restored. This is a really innovative solution to a long-standing challenge and so by proving that this works for bone can really pave the way for this technology to be used in other tissue engineering areas such as cartilage and tendon repair. This really motivates me every day to carry on and persevere with my research.

How did you become a Post-doctoral Researcher in Tissue Engineering?

One of my very first lectures at University (UCL, Biochemical Engineering) was given by Professor Chris Mason, a cardiothoracic surgeon who had hung up his stethoscope for the promise of regenerative medicine and tissue engineering. During his lecture, he played a YouTube video featuring a group in the USA who had developed a biological substance that when applied to a severed fingertip, successfully encouraged regrowth. This he explained was tissue engineering. I was sold!!

 Fast forward 4 years and I found myself enrolling into the Doctoral Training Centre in Regenerative Medicine (Loughborough, Nottingham and Keele Universities). This programme aims to train engineers and life scientists of all backgrounds to contribute to the tissue engineering and regenerative medicine field. My cohort included physicists, electrical engineers, mechanical engineers, biochemical & chemical engineers, chemists, computer scientists and even mathematicians. We were encouraged to apply the knowledge and skills acquired during our undergraduate training to biological scenarios to create solutions and technologies that would progress the field – I felt that this was the best of both worlds for me; utilising my training as an engineer whilst contributing to an emerging field. 

 The programme offered a foundation year where fundamental tissue engineering principles were introduced which would set us up well for our PhDs. During this foundation year, it became very apparent that my main interest was in orthopaedic tissue engineering, as I found elements of biomechanics fascinating. I completed my PhD at Keele University where I developed a protocol to track cells after they have been implanted in the body using magnetic nanoparticles and magnetic resonance imaging. Following on from this, I accepted a postdoctoral role within the same group to translate an established protocol from the lab to the clinic.

What advice would you give a young person considering a career in engineering?

To a woman thinking of a career in engineering, I would say to definitely go for it – it is no longer a man’s world, it’s not all about nuts and bolts, and it’s certainly not boring. I hope that I have demonstrated how engineering can open doors and that it can really be applied in almost any field. I would also say that it’s really important to surround yourselves with aspiring female engineers to learn how to balance life, family and work. I am very fortunate to have been supervised and mentored by a leading female figure in regenerative medicine and tissue engineering, Professor Alicia El Haj. Working with Alicia has shown me that women are able to reach high positions without sacrificing the all-important family life.

Monday, 17 August 2015

Melissa Mather - ISTM's New Professor of Biomedical Imaging

I was born in Brisbane, Australia and had an interest in science from an early age. At university I undertook a Science degree (Physics Major, Maths Minor) at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT). Outside of university I was a member of the Young Scientists of Australia, which saw me deliver science demonstrations at schools and run a 5 day science summer school for secondary school students. I was also a volunteer at the Brisbane Science Museum and travelled to outback Queensland to volunteer on a Science and Technology train, the highlight of which was getting to drive the train!

ISTM's new Professor of Biomedical Imaging, Melissa Mather

My postgraduate studies were carried out in the Centre for Medical and Health Physics, QUT where I developed an ultrasound technique for imaging radiation dose distributions in three dimensional soft tissue phantoms. Following completion of my PhD I moved to the UK to take up a research position at the University of Nottingham developing ultrasonic techniques for characterisation of solid-in-liquid suspensions and the detection of phase transitions in supercritical fluids. I soon realised I was not inspired by slurries and took up research in the field of Regenerative Medicine where I worked on the development of sensing and monitoring techniques of Regenerative Medicine products. In 2011 I was awarded an EPRSC Career Acceleration Fellowship and in 2013 I was appointed as the Engineering lead and Deputy Director of the Institute of Biophysics, Imaging and Optical Science.

In August 2015 I moved to Keele University to take up my current post as Professor of Biomedical Imaging. I am very keen to apply my expertise in the discovery, development and translation of novel non-invasive imaging tools with a particular focus on optical, ultrasound and opto-acoustic techniques for studying samples ranging from proteins to native tissue. My move to ISTM offers me an excellent opportunity to move my work closer to the clinic by providing access to a broader range of imaging modalities (e.g. PET, MRI) and to further expand my work in the development of imaging technologies to address unmet clinical needs and deliver high impact research.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Introducing ISTM's Recently Appointed Professor of Cardiology, Mamas Mamas

My name is Professor Mamas Mamas and I was recently appointed as a Professor in Cardiology at Keele University’s Institute for Science and Technology in Medicine (ISTM). I am also based at the Royal Stoke University Hospital working as an honorary consultant cardiologist. 

ISTM's recently appointed Professor of Cardiology, Mamas Mamas
Coronary heart disease is the common most cause of cardiovascular disease in the world and accounts for 74,000 deaths in the UK each year. Inflammatory processes within the coronary artery wall lead to the development of atherosclerosis, resulting in narrowing of the coronary artery resulting in an insufficient blood supply to the heart. Occasionally, a blood clot may also develop within the inflamed wall of the coronary artery obstructing the vessel and resulting in a “heart attack” in which the heart muscle is irreversibly damaged.

I am an interventional cardiologist whose role is to treat such patients with coronary artery disease both in the elective outpatient and the emergency heart attack setting through the deployment of metal tubes called stents into the narrowed / blocked coronary arteries thereby restoring blood flow in the diseased vessel. This procedure is called percutaneous coronary intervention or PCI.

My research interest focuses around the complications that occur during such PCI procedures, in particular major bleeding complications. Major bleeding can occur in upto 10% of all PCI procedures and our work has shown that major bleeding is independently associated with a 3-fold increase in mortality and major adverse cardiovascular events. My research group has shown that it might not only be the bleeding event itself that is associated with poor outcomes, but also how we treat the bleed, such as the use of judicious blood transfusions.

Using the British Cardiovascular Interventional Society dataset, that records data from every PCI procedure undertaken in the UK from 2006 onwards with over ½ million patient records, my research group’s work focuses on identifying the types of patients that are at high risk from sustaining such bleeding complications, how the prognostic impact of such bleeding events vary according to the site of the bleeding and the characteristics of the patient that it occurs in, as well as how we can undertake PCI procedures more safely to minimise such bleeding events. Using this dataset, my group has shown that changing the site through which we do these PCI procedures can reduce major bleeding by 60% and that this is associated with a 30% reduction in mortality, that we estimate has contributed to 400 lives saved in the UK in the past 6 years. Over the next couple of years, my research group aims to develop risk stratification tools that can accurately predict the risk of developing major bleeding complications in patients undergoing PCI, so that interventional cardiologists such as myself can tailor our interventional and pharmacological approaches to the individual patient depending on their calculated bleeding risk.

Whilst we have studied bleeding events that occur in the hospital setting post PCI, less is known about what happens to patients post discharge into primary care, how common bleeding events are in this setting, their prognostic impact and how such bleeding events are managed by general practitioners. My research group aims to use routinely collected GP data to provide further insight into major bleeding in the primary care setting, to identify patients at risk from such bleeding events and develop evidence based guidance to GPs that will enable patients who sustain such bleeding events to be treated safely, without exposing them to excess risks of developing blood clots.