Personalised corneas and self-destructing cancer among new breakthroughs at TCD

5 Sep 2016

On the fifth anniversary of the launch of the Trinity Biomedical Sciences Institute (TBSI), the organisation has published two new research breakthroughs that could pave the way for bionic humans.

In the five years that the TCD institute has been operational, it has doled out €83m in research funding to researchers and led to the creation of seven spin-out companies.

Now, on its fifth anniversary, the centre has revealed a number of new research projects, two of which it claims show the future of what it will be like to be a ‘bionic human’.

Future Human

A cornea idea

The first study, conducted by Dr Mark Ahearne and his team, looked at the development of bioengineered corneas for patients, replacing the need for donated corneas for transplant.

The cornea of a human’s eye is vitally important, filtering light from the outside world. Unfortunately, a multitude of corneal issues globally has resulted in a high demand for transplants.

The bioengineered cornea. Image via Mark Ahearne

The bioengineered cornea. Image via Mark Ahearne

Based on the fact that a cornea consists of layers of aligned collagen fibres stacked perpendicularly on top of each other, Dr Ahearne’s team was able to come up with a novel artificial solution to create these fibres using electro-spun nanofibers.

Speaking of the breakthrough, Dr Ahearne said, “We are investigating the effect of different physical and chemical environments on the behaviour of corneal cells. This information can then be incorporated into the design of the bioengineered corneas to improve their function.

“We are confident that this research will generate new therapies to treat patients suffering from corneal blindness.”

Using cancer’s own weapons against it

The second study looked into the possibility of targeting cancer cells by using the same weapons – known as exosomes – that the disease uses to wreak havoc on the human body.

Led by Associate Professor in Pharmacology Lorraine O’Driscoll, the team was able to reverse-engineer these exosomes to introduce a beneficial molecule to the affected cells in the body.

This was able to quell the cancer’s aggressiveness, reduce its growth and make it more sensitive to anti-cancer medication.

Cancer cells

Cancer cells image via Shutterstock

This breakthrough was first made when the team was able to successfully reintroduce the beneficial molecule miR-134, lost to cancer cells.

“Exosome research is still in its relative infancy, but its potential is huge,” said Dr O’Driscoll.

“We are now heading up a Horizon 2020-funded cooperation in science and technology on exosomes and micro-vesicles in health and disease, which brings together 285 researchers from academia, clinics and industry in 27 EU countries to exploit these vesicles and provide a huge societal and economic impact.”

Bionic eye image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic