A marriage of biology and physics has resulted in two leading University academics being shortlisted for the 2018 European Inventor of the Year award.
Husband and wife team Eileen Ingham (Faculty of Biological Sciences) and John Fisher (Medical Engineering) have been jointly nominated in two categories for the annual prize, run by the European Patent Office, one of which is voted for by the public.
They were selected for developing the decellularisation technique to wash cells and DNA out of tissue, so it is not rejected when transplanted into humans.
Medical immunologist, Eileen Ingham, and John Fisher, a medical engineer, are both long-standing senior professors at Leeds. Together, they have developed and expanded the decellularisation technique during the past 20 years.
Since the ground-breaking process was first developed and tested in laboratory and clinical studies, it has been used across the world, from supporting soft tissue replacements in knee joint injuries through to the development of a new human heart valve.
Professor Ingham said: “The decellularisation process tackles a really important challenge – how to help tissues regenerate. We hope to see even more medical breakthroughs in the future using the technique, such as replacement tissue for hips and ankles. Our ultimate aim is to help people stay active and provide a new lease of life.”
The technique is so successful it has been developed by a spin-out company from the University, called Tissue Regenix, which is now an Alternative Investment Market-listed (AIM) organisation still based in Leeds.
The professors, who met through their research, are pitted against two other inventions in the research category, which will be judged by experts, and against 15 others in a public vote for the 'popular prize'. The winner will be announced on 7 June 2018.
Professor Ingham, who completed her BSc degree and PhD at Leeds and has spent her entire career working in the University’s labs, added: “We’ve always been committed to making a real and telling difference to the world around us. Our decellularisation process has shown how research in universities can have a genuinely positive impact on improving people’s live.
“We were really pleased to be shortlisted because technical science and medical engineering breakthroughs are often very specialised.
"We’ve harnessed two very different fields of research to create this solution, bringing together the physical science of John’s engineering background with my own biological understanding, and it’s been wonderful to see the technique evolve across the world.
“Now, both John and I are crossing our fingers for the result to go our way. If we win, it will be something for all our colleagues over the years, and for the city of Leeds as a whole, to be proud of.”
Now, the University is calling on staff to vote for the invention in the popular prize competition, to help recognise and celebrate the pioneering technique.
Professor Lisa Roberts, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research and Innovation at Leeds, said: “Congratulations to Eileen and John on being shortlisted for the prize; the University as a whole is very proud of their achievement.
"Researchers and clinicians in their field across the world know how important their invention has been, but this is a great chance to bring this international prize to Leeds, so please do take a few minutes to vote.”
The public can vote here.
Together, the two professors founded the Institute of Medical & Biological Engineering (iMBE) at the University, globally recognised as one the top centres for research and innovation in medical engineering and which now acts as a regional host for national medical technologies centres.
Much of the research carried out to develop the decellularisation technique has been funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the Bioscience and Biotechnology Sciences Research Council, part of UK Research and Innovation.