Friday, 19 March, 2021: CÚRAM, the Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) Research Centre for Medical Devices, based at NUI Galway, has announced two new tripartite partnerships as part of the US-Ireland Research and Development Partnership Programme. These partnerships will develop new technologies to treat cardiovascular disease and create new mechanisms for large-scale transport of high-quality therapeutic cells.
The US-Ireland Research and Development Partnership is a unique initiative involving funding agencies across three jurisdictions: the United States, The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, with the goal of increasing collaborative Research and Development amongst researchers and industry across the three jurisdictions. This collaboration aims to generate valuable discoveries and innovations that are transferable to the marketplace or lead to enhancements in health, disease prevention, or healthcare.
Dr Siobhan Roche, Director of Science for the Economy at SFI, said: "I am delighted to announce these two new partnerships involving CÚRAM. Our national SFI Research Centre network puts Ireland in a firm position to meet and respond to global challenges. International collaborations between leading research institutes such as these can accelerate innovation and create valuable global healthcare advances. We look forward to sharing their successes."
The first partnership is the Cardiac Organoid Systems Partnership, driven by a shared understanding of the fundamental need to develop regenerative medicine technologies to treat cardiovascular disease. The primary approach of cardiac tissue engineering is to create cardiac grafts that can be efficiently implanted, regenerating the tissue and giving rise to a fully functional heart without causing side effects.
Recently, there has been considerable effort to develop functional scaffolds that are designed for cardiac repair. These scaffolds help recreate or mimic the body's environment to allow cells embedded in the scaffolds to reach their full biological potential. Beyond developing engineered scaffolds for repairing cardiac tissue, the ability to scale-up the fabrication of these scaffolds is critical to their successful translation into everyday clinical practice.
Professor David Bishop, Director of the CELL-MET ERC at Boston University, said: "The creation of functional engineered cardiac tissue with electromechanical properties that mimic the human heart on a scalable platform has the potential to transform the treatment of chronic heart disease. The fabrication of scaffolds is an interdisciplinary challenge combining chemical, biological, and physical properties."
Professor Gerard O'Connor, School of Physics, NUI Galway, explains: "Of all of the causes of cardiovascular disease, ischaemic heart disease remains a major cause of death worldwide. Cardiac tissue and cells damaged during a heart attack, for instance, cannot regenerate and are usually replaced by fibrotic scar tissue, which means that the only option for patients with end-stage heart disease is whole heart transplantation. Tissue engineering holds enormous promise for restoring functionality in these scarred regions of the damaged heart."
The Cardiac Organoid Systems Partnership is a collaboration between the National Science Foundation (NSF) Engineering Research Centre (ERC) for Cellular Metamaterials (CELL-MET), headquartered at Boston University, CÚRAM the SFI Research Centre for Medical Devices, and the Wellcome-Wolfson Institute for Experimental Medicine (WWIEM) at Queens University Belfast.
The Global Cell Manufacturing and Delivery Partnership is the second new collaboration for CÚRAM under the US-Ireland Research and Development Partnership Programme. For this three-year project, CÚRAM is collaborating with the National Science Foundation (NSF) Engineering Research Centre (ERC) for Cell Manufacturing Technologies (CMaT), headquartered at Georgia Institute of Technology, and the Wellcome-Wolfson Institute for Experimental Medicine (WWIEM) at Queens University Belfast.
The aim of this research team's partnership is to use their combined expertise in biomaterials, characterisation and production of clinically-relevant cell types, to develop the technology to allow for the transport of high-quality, therapeutic cells at room or ambient temperature. The partners will scale-up, model and test a hydrogel-based system and make it clinical trial-ready.
Professor Garry Duffy, CÚRAM project lead and Professor of Anatomy and Regenerative Medicine, NUI Galway, said: "Cell therapies represent the next generation of therapeutic products that have the potential to regenerate damaged or degenerating tissues and treat a broad range of chronic illnesses. One of the global challenges that need to be resolved in order to make these therapies broadly available is the challenge of how to transport and distribute these cells. The key aim of this partnership is to develop a system that will allow us to transport cells for several days in ambient conditions, eliminating the need for cryopreservation for transport."
Cryopreservation, which is currently required to transport cells, can negatively affect cell potency. Ultimately this partnership aims to solve a critical challenge of transportation and distribution to improve access to and reduce the cost of these therapies globally.
Professor Krishnendu Roy, Director of the NSF ERC, Georgia Institute of Technology, said: "This partnership builds on CMaT and CÚRAM’s complementary expertise and brings together existing industry and academic networks and infrastructure to address a significant unmet need in cell therapy manufacturing and supply-chain. Low-cost, ambient temperature transport of cellular therapies with minimal cold-chain requirement is a global grand-challenge, and by coming together under this partnership, we hope to develop the technical and regulatory knowledge required to address it and improve quality of life for patients with chronic illness worldwide."
This unique partnership's broader implications will be the stimulation of an innovation network between the US, Ireland, and the UK in cell manufacturing and cell therapies transport. This project will provide the groundwork for the realisation of greater access to cell therapies and nurture a climate of innovation and creativity in research-led, clinically informed, and industry influenced problem-solving for cell manufacturing.