In today’s Academic Minute, Dr. Kevin Shakesheff of the University of Nottingham explains an innovation that allows better observations of embryonic development in the lab.
Kevin Shakesheff is a professor of advanced drug delivery and tissue engineering at the University of Nottingham where his research is focused on regenerative medicine and the delivery of biopharmaceuticals. He has invented numerous new delivery systems for cells and growth factors that have been applied to the regeneration of bone, cartilage, liver, nerve and corneal tissue. He earned his Ph.D. at the University of Nottingham.
Dr. Kevin Shakesheff – Observing Embryonic Development
Every person listening to this radio broadcast grew themselves from a single cell. This fact still amazes me every single day of my working life as we study how tissues form. The work of my team aims to develop new medical treatments for diseases and injuries that cannot be treated by current medicine. This field is called regenerative medicine and when historians look back on our period of research they will, I hope, recognise that now was the time that medicine changed once and for all.
The profound nature of the change that could happen in the next few decades is best explained by an all too common example, a major heart attack. If you are unlucky enough to suffer a major heart attack, but lucky enough to survive, then you will have lost the function of a big section of your heart. The tissue, which normally beats every second of your life, permanently loses its strength. Drugs and lifestyle changes can help you cope but never restore a fully functional heart.
Now let’s go back to you as an embryo. You grew a heart in a matter of weeks from a single cell. Can we learn from this process? We can study development in a range of animal embryo systems but there is a technical problem – they don’t grow in the lab for very long. This makes it virtually impossible to study the complexity of building tissue and organs.
Our most recent work, published in Nature Communications, uses soft polymer materials to create a friendly environment for mouse embryos. Thanks to this environment the embryos develop under our microscopes for just long enough to reveal new processes of tissue formation. In the future this work can guide scientists, clinicians and companies in the design of living medicines in which cells are injected into the body and tissues are recreated.