RAFT- An update on our Science

Breast reconstruction

Current guidelines recommend that women should be offered the option of breast reconstruction after mastectomy. However, current reconstructive options are far from ideal. Currently, fewer than half the women in the UK who have a mastectomy choose to have breast reconstruction. These patients have suffered the trauma of cancer and are understandably unwilling to undergo further surgery with an uncertain outcome. The RAFT Institute offers women the prospect to rebuild a natural feeling breast.

Achieved so far: RAFT is developing a natural 3D scaffold built from natural proteins found in breast tissue. Using a scaffold will ensure that the stem cell supplemented fat will stay within the breast reconstruction site rather than dissipating throughout the body. By using proteins which naturally occur in body tissue the rejection risk is significantly reduced when combined with the patient’s own cells. As the breast tissue grows the implant is absorbed, leaving behind a natural breast.
Objectives: We are reviewing our pre-clinical results to date and a chosen prototype will be scaled up into an implant that will be tested in a large animal model. Once completed we will be then ready to seek approval to conduct clinical trials.
Bone regeneration

Autografts (bone taken from one part of the patient’s body and implanted in an injury area) are the standard choice of treatment for bone defects; however, their use is limited by disadvantages. There still exists an unmet clinical need for novel bone graft substitutes that can eliminate the use of autografts. Our programme is to develop an artificial bone graft that will substitute the use of autograft in the treatment of bone defects.

Achieved so far: The RAFT Institute has developed a novel biomaterial called SmartCaP®, to act as a bone void filler. The data gathered so far suggests that this novel biomaterial promotes new bone formation and is biodegradable as new bone forms. We are developing this as a malleable template to regenerate bone naturally over time. Due to the physical nature of SmartCaP®, it can be easily manipulated by the surgeons in the clinic. The use of such a biomaterial would eliminate the need for a second surgery to harvest autografts, significantly reducing costs and surgery times.
Objectives: The next stage is to take this biomaterial onto clinical studies to test the efficacy and safety of the material. If results are positive, SmartCaP® can then enter commercialisation, initially for regenerating bone at dental applications and later at orthopaedic applications.
A keloid scar is a raised, painful growth on the skin, which often occurs after a minor scratch or cut. Keloids are a form of tumour and are more common in the black population. Although not cancerous, these tumours can have a serious effect on a person’s quality of life. Current treatments are ineffective and short-lived. Surgical removal of these tumours often leads to the keloid coming back even larger. An effective, long-lasting treatment does not exist. Our objective is to develop a biomaterial which can be placed on skin to prevent formation of a keloid scar. It will not require added hospital time so the potential cost savings in personnel time and aftercare would be significant.
Achieved so far: The RAFT Institute has a keloid cell bank which can be used by scientists at RAFT as well as researchers in the wider scientific community. We shared our cell bank with scientists at King’s College London interested in understanding the molecular and cellular behaviour of keloid cells. We have been investigating the proliferation and metabolic rates of keloid cells in comparison with cells found in normal scars. Our initial work suggests that scaffold’s composition influences keloid cells’ colonisation and therefore, a scaffold with optimised composition could prevent the re-growth of keloids after surgical excision.
Objectives: Work will continue on expanding and distributing cells in our cell bank, understanding the differences between keloid cells and normal ones, and researching an optimised composition for an anti-keloid biomaterial treatment.
3d Printing
Following major surgery for removal of a tumour in the head and neck region or trauma, the surgeon is limited with devices available for reconstruction to restore both function and aesthetics. 3D printing offers huge promise in the biomedical field but is limited by the types of materials that can be 3D printed. The objective of this project is to develop novel polymeric inks that are biodegradable for 3D printing of custom-made craniofacial implants.

Achieved so far: We have developed a family of novel that are biocompatible and biodegradable and can be 3D printed into complex porous shapes.
Objectives: To complete the first PhD on this project and continue the development of the novel inks family and start looking into commercialisation of the inks.
Bionic Limb
Current prosthesis for upper-limb amputees often have poor attachment, which causes chaffing, pain and discomfort. In the more advanced myoprosthesis, surface electrodes placed on the skin to transmit signals for limb movement, have problems with lifting off and signal cross-talk. This programme is looking at a prototype for an implantable electronic device, capable of monitoring the muscle activity, sending the signals to a receiving unit outside the body, and controlling an upper limb prosthesis.

Achieved so far: We have achieved an initial design for the signal amplification circuit and developed an innovative method to protect the electronics for long-term use in the body. We have also demonstrated the feasibility of wirelessly transferring both data and power between the implant and the external control device.
Objectives: We will continue towards developing a final design for the signal amplification circuit and testing its efficacy.