New research from RCSI (Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland) and the Science Foundation Ireland funded research centre, AMBER (Advanced Materials and BioEngineering Research) published in the Journal of Tissue Engineering & Regenerative Medicine has found that a novel biomaterial that can repair damaged knee cartilage has led to an injured thoroughbred filly, Beyoncé returning to competitive show jumping following implantation of this biomaterial.

This patented multi-layered 3D porous scaffold called ChondroColl, was developed by a team of researchers from the RCSI Tissue Engineering Research Group (TERG) and the Advanced Materials and BioEngineering Research (AMBER) Centre led by Professor Fergal O’Brien. It is composed of layers of collagen, hydroxyapatite and hyaluronic acid, materials native to articular joints, and is designed to direct the body’s own cells to regenerate damaged joints, thus presenting a potential solution that can benefit patients worldwide.

This is the third research paper published in 2016 by the group which has demonstrated the ability of ChondroColl to repair cartilage and joint defects. This most recent study relates to
a recent case in University College Dublin’s (UCD) Veterinary Hospital and provided the first clinical use of this scaffold. The patient was a 16 month old thoroughbred filly – ‘Beyonce’,
who had large areas of damage in both left and right stifle (knee) joints as a result of a disease known as osteochondritis dissecans (a joint disorder in which cracks form in the articular cartilage and the underlying subchondral bone). The outcome for such patients is often poor and may lead to euthanasia of the animal in severe cases.

David Stack and Florent David of UCD’s Veterinary Hospital carried out the removal of the unstable osteochondral fragments and subsequently the multi-layered scaffolds were then implanted
providing a template for new cartilage and bone to be formed. The procedure was very successful and since surgery, ‘Beyonce’ has resumed training and will compete in show jumping events in the coming months.

Additional healing assessment research reported for ChondroColl has also received promising results. The first from a short term pilot study was published in Acta Biomaterialia and the second
was a long term pre-clinical study, also carried out in conjunction with University College Dublin’s School of Veterinary Medicine, which has demonstrated the ability of the scaffold to heal defects at 12 months in goats.

This was recently published in Biomaterials, the leading specialist journal in the field.

Professor Fergal O’Brien, Head of the Tissue Engineering Research Group in the Dept. of Anatomy in RCSI and Deputy Director of AMBER said “We are delighted with the outcomes from both pre-clinical studies and particularly with the results from the Beyonce case. Our hope for the future is this technology will benefit human patients and through our spinout company SurgaColl
Technologies, this is very close to becoming a reality with first human cases anticipated in the coming months.”

Dr Tanya Levingstone, first author on the studies and Research Fellow in RCSI said “These studies were an interdisciplinary team effort and has shown potential of the biomaterial to heal different sized injuries in patients.” ChondroColl repairs articular joints by stimulating host stem cells to regenerate both bone and cartilage, using the composition and architecture of the biomaterial to actively direct tissue formation. The research related to the development and assessment of the technology received funding from Enterprise Ireland, Science Foundation Ireland and the Health Research Board. A High Potential Start-Up company from RCSI, SurgaColl Technologies, are currently bringing the technology to market. This is the second product from RCSI in SurgaColl’s pipeline. Their first product, a bone regeneration scaffold (HydroxyColl) is CE approved. Regulatory approval and first in-human use of the ChondroColl scaffold is planned in the coming months.

Professor Michael Morris, Director of AMBER, said: “Today’s announcement on the new technology demonstrates our track record of pushing the boundaries of science to discover real solutions for people. We will continue to carry out excellent research that has real societal impact. In addition, to improving the lives of thousands of people, this technology could have real applications in the veterinary sector.”

AMBER, the Science Foundation Ireland funded materials science centre based at the CRANN Institute, Trinity College, has today launched Ireland’s most powerful microscope the NION UltraSTEM 200. This new world class tool can analyse single atoms and objects a million times smaller than a human hair using scanning transmission electron microscopy (STEM), and will help scientists push boundaries even further, in fields such as materials science, ICT, energy storage, pharmaceuticals, medical devices and diagnostics. The microscope was officially unveiled by Minister for Skills, Research and Innovation Damien English T.D. who was joined by AMBER’s industry partners including Intel, Bell Labs and Eblana Photonics. Key note speakers at the launch event included Dr Ondrej Krivanek, President of NION, Dr Rhonda Stroud, Head of the Nanoscale Materials Section at the Naval Research Lab and Professor Barry Carter, University of Connecticut.

The €5.7 million NION UltraSTEM 200 microscope funded by Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) will be one of the top 10 microscopes in the world. It is housed in the Advanced Microscopy Laboratory (AML) located in the Trinity Technology and Enterprise Campus. The NION UltraSTEM microscope will give researchers the access to a tool that can investigate the very heart of materials, and discoveries using this microscope will help research and lead to innovations that benefit society. From developing 2D materials for energy storage, to creating new materials to capture carbon dioxide to reduce greenhouse emissions and supporting the understanding of cells for more effective cancer treatment, this new state of the art equipment enables Irish scientists to examine atoms within materials in a way that has never been possible in Ireland.

Speaking at the event, Damien English T.D., Minister for Skills, Research and Innovation said, “The impact of leading research infrastructure, such as the NION microscope, in the area of product manufacturing and its contribution to the national economy, cannot be underestimated. The availability of this powerful tool is critical to research carried out within AMBER’S industry partner companies where atomic precision during manufacturing is a crucial requirement. The NION will be a significant advancement in the public-private sector research relationships in Ireland.”

Professor Valeria Nicolosi, Principal Investigator at AMBER, said: “The development of new sophisticated materials requires a deep understanding of their structure and properties. This new super powerful microscope lets Irish scientists examine how materials behave at a level a million times smaller than a human hair. AMBER’s new instrument will enable industry and academic users to accelerate their innovations. This new pioneering equipment will allow us to provide opportunities for new kinds of experiments. We anticipate scientists to travel from all over Europe to use it, and some have started already”

Dr Patrick Prendergast, Provost of Trinity College Dublin, said: “This is a very significant investment in Irish scientific research. We house state of the art equipment in our Advanced Microscopy Laboratory and the addition of the NION UltraSTEM will further facilitate world leading research and expertise. The launch today of the new powerful microscope heralds a new era of research in a wide range of materials and this ensures that Ireland remains at the forefront of world-class research which ultimately will benefit society at large. I would like to congratulate Professor Nicolosi and her team on securing this facility for Trinity and Irish science.”
The microscope is designed for stability (it will move no more than half a millimeter in 100 years, or 2000 times slower than continental drift) and has been installed in a very special room that will only allow for 0.1°C/hr fluctuation. The way the NION UltraSTEM microscope works is by scanning a beam that has been focused down to the size of an atom, across a sample, providing chemical information on the sample at the same time. Although scanning transmission electron microscopy has been used as a technique for some years, detailed imaging of atoms was previously impossible due to defects affecting all lenses. This microscope surpasses the abilities of traditional STEMs through its inbuilt computer-controlled system that corrects these defects, much in the same way that glasses correct for vision problems.
Prof. Mark Ferguson, Director General Science Foundation Ireland and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of Ireland, added ‘Leading research infrastructure, such as the NION microscope further increases Ireland’s capacity to accomplish high quality, high impact and innovative research while supporting and developing research links with industry in Ireland and internationally. This investment by Science Foundation Ireland has the potential to propel research projects and provides Irish Researchers with the tools to be world leading.’

Professor Michael Morris, Director AMBER, said: “The arrival of NION, one of only 10 in the world is a significant game changer for scientific research in Ireland and beyond. This new tool is the equivalent of a Formula 1 car amongst other aberration-corrected microscopes. Ultimately the NION allows for the precision at which some new materials can be produced requiring sensitivities beyond the reach of most laboratories. This will give researchers access to a tool that can explore and investigate materials in a way not done before in Ireland, discoveries made using the NION will lead to innovations that will have real impact for our society.”

Leonard Hobbs, Director Global Public Affairs at Intel Ireland said, “Intel is working with AMBER in the field of materials science, in developing innovative methods and exploring exciting properties of new materials as we collaborate in developing new technology options. NION, with its world leading capabilities, will help facilitate the delivery of breakthrough research and further technology innovation.”

The Advanced Microscopy Laboratory (AML) houses state of the art equipment, designed to meet the needs for advanced manufacturing and materials research, whether for academic or material purposes. The AML with the addition of the NION UltraSTEM now contains a suite of instruments that covers the entire resolution range from transmission electron microscopy to scanning electron and ion beam microscopes for surface imaging and analysis. The AML is open to all academic and industrial users, both nationally and internationally.

Jonathan Coleman, AMBER’s Principal Investigator and Professor in the School of Physics, Trinity College Dublin has been announced as a recipient of the European Research Council’s (ERC) Advanced Grants. The prestigious ERC Advanced Grants are only made to Europe’s most distinguished researchers. The awards recognise scientists who are working on cutting-edge research and who truly push the frontiers of knowledge. Prof. Coleman’s grant of 2.2 million euro will support and grow his research group for the next five years.

Professor Michael Morris, Director of AMBER said, “This award is great recognition of the work being done by Professor Coleman and his team to develop next generation materials. Ireland has built up its expertise in the area of nano and materials science which is globally recognised, as evidenced by the increasing number of international research grants we are attracting. Ireland is beginning to take a globally recognised leadership position in this field of research and scientists of the calibre of Professor Coleman are critical to building our reputation in this area.”

The research grant is based on Professor Coleman’s work on novel methods to use liquid exfoliation to develop printed electronics using 2D materials. In the future, even the most mundane objects will contain electronic circuitry allowing them to gather, process, display and transmit information. The resulting vast network, often called the Internet of Things, will revolutionise society. To realise this will require the ability to produce electronic circuitry extremely cheaply, often on unconventional substrate. This will be achieved through printed electronics, by the assembly of devices from solution (i.e. ink) using methods adapted from printing technology. The aim of Coleman’s research is to take liquid dispersions of nanosheets and by carefully tuning the liquid properties optimise them for use as inks. These nano-structured inks can be printed onto surfaces using standard printers to form patterned networks of nanosheets. By combining networks of different types of nanosheets, it will be possible to print fully functional electronic devices where every component including electrodes, active material, dielectrics and electrolytes has been printed from a specific type of nanosheets. In this way photodetectors, transistors, solar cells and supercapacitors can be printed allowing the development of cheap yet high performance electronic circuitry which will allow everything from packaging to clothing to gather, process, display and exchange information. Many believe that by 2020, such chips could be in >20 billion objects making the vast majority of internet connections.

Professor Jonathan Coleman, said “We’re delighted with the award. We believe recent developments in liquid exfoliation of 2D nanosheets have given us the ideal family of materials to revolutionise electronic ink production. This funding will help enable us to develop methods to transform large volume suspensions of exfoliated nanosheets into bespoke 2D inks with properties engineered for a range of specific printed device applications such as transistors and solar cells. This means that the consumer/industry will have access to a much broader range of information than before. Information will be personalised. Not only will your smartphone be able to check the news, it will be able to check if the milk in your fridge is fresh.

This ERC grant follows Coleman’s previous ERC grant which studied the production of inorganic 2D nanosheets by liquid exfoliation and will allow him to employ four post-doctoral researchers and two PhD students.

Coleman’s work has been published in prestigious international journals such as Science, Nature, Nature Nanotechnology, and Advanced Materials, as well as featuring in New Scientist, the New York Times and on CNN. In 2011 Jonathan was recognised as one of the top 100 material scientists of the last decade – the only Irish representative and one of the youngest on the list.

AMBER, the Science Foundation Ireland funded materials science centre based at Trinity College Dublin, has today announced the appointment of Dr Lorraine Byrne as Executive Director of the organisation.

Dr. Lorraine Byrne, a Dublin native, joins AMBER following a successful 18 years with Hewlett Packard. In her recent position within the InkJet printing division, she held a number of technical roles within the Research and Development and Manufacturing functions notably in the areas of Ink Chemistry and Failure Analysis. Dr. Byrne was the lead technologist with the Emerging Technologies research team focusing on printed electronics and flexible displays. As part of her role in Hewlett Packard she led a significant research program in the area of flexible transparent electronics which involved a significant collaboration with the CRANN institute, as well as participation in a number of EU Framework 6 programs. Lorraine has filed 5 patents in the area of flexible electronics of which 3 have been granted.

Welcoming the appointment, AMBER Director, Professor Michael Morris, said: “We welcome Lorraine as the new Executive Director of AMBER. She brings a wealth of experience to the role particularly from the private sector. As AMBER develops into the future, Lorraine will bring her expertise and experience into the leadership team and so help ensure that AMBER will continue to position Ireland as a leader in materials science and bioengineering. I believe Lorraine will allow us to further develop our research outputs and deliver those outputs into our research partners in industry”

Commenting on her appointment, Lorraine Byrne, said: “I am delighted to be taking up the position of Executive Director of AMBER. The AMBER Centre is one of the key drivers for Ireland’s growing international reputation for excellence in materials science research. I look forward to working with the team here to continue carrying out disruptive research with our industry partners –designing, synthesizing and engineering materials for specific applications and products. I have no doubt that this is an exciting time for materials science and I look forward to the next phase of our future.”

AMBER brings together Ireland’s leading materials science researchers working across the disciplines of Physics, Chemistry, Bioengineering and Medicine, with an international network of collaborators and companies.

Lorraine has a post graduate Certificate in Nanotechnology from Oxford University, a PhD in Chemistry and a B.Sc in Analytical science both from Dublin City University.