Researchers at RCSI (Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland) have developed a new generation of bioactive scaffolds that is capable of enhancing bone regeneration in a laboratory setting. The study found that these scaffolds are able to increase the bone repair capacity of stem cells by delivering molecules known as microRNAs (micro-ribonucleic acids). This technology can potentially benefit the multidisciplinary fields of tissue engineering, biomedicine and drug development. The research has been published in Scientific Reports, the open access journal from the publishers of Nature.

The research team developed a delivery technology based on the combination of nanoparticles and a collagen-based scaffold biomaterial, both designed specifically for bone repair by RCSI’s Tissue Engineering Research Group (TERG). The technology developed by the group allows for the local delivery of a microRNA regulator, that increases a key activator of bone regeneration. These new findings have resulted in enhanced capacity for bone formation by human stem cells in vitro.

microRNAs are an exciting class of biomolecules that function in RNA silencing and post-transcriptional regulation of gene expression so applying this platform for delivery of other distinct microRNAs opens the technology for application in a multitude of other therapeutic applications beyond bone. In addition, the technology could be used as tested system for disease modelling, drug discovery, as well as drug transport and function studies.

Professor Fergal O’Brien, Professor of Bioengineering & Regenerative Medicine, RCSI and Principal Investigator on the project said, “While we are very excited by the enhanced capacity for bone repair that was demonstrated in this study, the platform biomaterials have potential for the regeneration of other degenerated or diseased tissues in the body as they can be tailored to deliver individual microRNA therapeutics.” Professor O’Brien has received a ‘Proof of Concept’ grant from the European Research Council (ERC) in 2015, to utilise the platform to focus on cartilage repair specifically.

The first author on the study is Dr Irene Mencía Castaño, who carried out this research for her PhD thesis, carried out under the supervision of Dr Caroline Curtin, Professor Garry Duffy and Professor Fergal O’Brien, all based at the RCSI Department of Anatomy. The research was the result of a multi-disciplinary effort between cell biologists, clinicians and engineers in the TERG which is part of the €58million SFI-funded Advanced Materials and Bioengineering Research (AMBER) Centre.

RCSI is ranked 46th in the world for ‘International Outlook’ and 251 – 300 in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings (2015-2016). It is an international not-for-profit health sciences institution, with its headquarters in Dublin, focused on education and research to drive improvements in human health worldwide.