‘Synthetic Amniotic Membrane’ development project supported by InnovateUK and the UKI2S Accelerator Programme for Technology Development Projects.
For many of us, there is hardly any more life-changing disability imaginable than loss of sight. Whether through trauma or disease, the inability to rely on visual cues impacts on all matters of daily life; doing your job or bringing your kids to school are no longer straightforward activities. Blindness or reduced sight is often caused by a damaged conjunctiva, a super-thin layer of cells covering the white of your eye and inside of your eye-lids.
Fortunately for many in the western world, repair of this damaged tissue is possible through established surgical procedures, many of them using a tissue graft sourced during birth called the amniotic membrane (AM). Microscopically, the AM closely resembles the damaged ocular tissue and can be used as a patch (Amniotic Membrane Transplantation, AMT) to help the body regenerate the damaged tissue. There is however a caveat, our population is ageing and AMT is expected to rise. As it can only be sourced during birth (usually during C-section), AM supply is not available in (virtually) unlimited supply, increasing its price and healthcare costs. Furthermore, AM is often stored in expensive facilities with a significant administrative burden (donor tissue traceability), further adding to the costs. Last but not least, donor tissue regulation, unlike medical device regulation, is complicated for international deployment. In developing countries such as India and China, loss of sight is closely correlated with occupational hazards (i.e. chemical burns of the eye) and is estimated that over 2M people in India alone would benefit from AMT procedures. However, high costs and non-existent national tissue donation regulation literally leave these people in the dark.
The aim of the proposed project is to assess the technical and commercial feasibility of developing a fully resorbable synthetic AM alternative. The use of electrospinning technology to fabricate such a device will closely mimic the native AM and ocular tissue.
Successful adoption of such a device would directly address the global shortage in AM, easing the pressure on tissue banking and simplifying regulation for swift market deployment (medical device). Furthermore, the manufacturing process can be scaled to meet global demand, allowing cost-effective production for low-income countries and making a truly impact on a global level, made in Great Britain.