The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSCR) has awarded nearly £4 million to a research consortium involving four UK universities that will look at new approaches to the development and repair of human skeletal tissue.

The consortium members are Professor Alicia El Haj of Keele University, Professor Molly Stevens of Imperial College London, Professor Kevin Shakesheff of the University of Nottingham and Professor Richard Oreffo of the University of Southampton.

Over the next five years, they will combine expertise in skeletal stem cells, scaffolds and materials chemistry in an effort to identify the key growth factors, matrix proteins and physical conditions that can enhance tissue regeneration and ultimately lead to more effective skeletal repair strategies.

For example, at the University of Nottingham – which secured £1.12 million in funding from the BBSRC – scientists in the Centre for Biomolecular Sciences are developing new materials that harness the ability of the body’s own stem cells to make new bone grow faster and stronger.

This research has already helped to generate polymer materials that fill the space left by a trauma such as a broken bone. The materials temporarily support the wound caused by the trauma and provide a surface to which stem cells can migrate, encouraging new blood vessels and bone tissue to grow.

According to Shakesheff, who is professor of advanced drug delivery and tissue engineering in Nottingham University’s School of Pharmacy, the first generation of such products from previous research could be used in patients by 2010.

The BBSRC funding will go towards developing more advanced products to repair large-scale injuries and trauma and addressing the challenges of patients who cannot spontaneously form bone, such as post-radiotherapy.