I am a post-doctoral researcher in the group of Professor Julian Jones at Imperial College London and winner of the ISGS PhD Thesis Award in 2018 for my PhD thesis entitled “3-D printed flexible hybrids for tissue regeneration”. My thesis was focused on the development of a new sol-gel silica/PTHF/PCL hybrid material system with an unprecedented combination of properties, including the ability to: bounce (elasticity and recovery); take cyclic loads under dry and wet conditions; and self-heal intrinsically and autonomously while being optically clear and biodegradable. The new hybrid can be used as an “ink” for direct 3D printing, without the use of binders. As an example of potential applications, the resulting 3D printed scaffolds can stimulate cartilage regeneration and mimic its mechanical properties. The synthesis process (i.e. combination of sol-gel process and in situ cationic ring-opening polymerisation) and the hybrid materials obtained were patented.
Since then, my post-doctoral research has been focused on the translation of this hybrid material into a 3D device for the regeneration of articular cartilage. This device involves a combination of a 3D porous scaffold and a bearing surface, fused together by exploiting the gelation inherent in the sol-gel process. Complete characterisation of the device has been carried out and currently in vivo studies in sheep are on-going…fingers crossed they will give the results that we hope for! We have a patent application pending.
Given the novelty and the versatility of this hybrid material, other PhD students in Jones’ group have been investigating other aspects and possible applications. These include a modification of the chemical composition of the inorganic part in order to impart bioactivity for use in bone regeneration, and the design of a structure with graded mechanical properties to be used as an intervertebral disc replacement. Furthermore, the innovative synthesis can be applied to other suitable monomers, paving the way to a new class of sol-gel hybrid materials impossible to achieve by other means.