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Innovate UK supported advanced materials research

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My name is Ben Walsh and my job at Innovate UK is to drive innovation in advanced materials.

Enabling technology

Optical fibres
Optical fibres

Being part of the Enabling Technology team I touch on many different sectors and support a wide variety of activities from aerospace components to new food packaging. This is keenly illustrated by a recent £3m Technology Inspired Innovation competition that aimed to support advanced materials activities that align with our overall strategy.

We awarded funding to six projects who really were the cream of the crop and this blog highlights the innovative research these companies are undertaking.

 1. Preclinical proof of concept for a cell therapy delivery matrix

(Locate Therapeutics Ltd and University of Nottingham)

Emerging cell therapies have vast potential in the treatment of currently incurable diseases; the potential market for cell-based therapies being over 100 million patients in the US alone.

Some of the main targets include

  • heart disease
  • diabetes
  • neurodegenerative diseases
  • musculoskeletal disorders
  • spinal cord injury
  • stroke
  • autoimmune diseases
  • trauma

A current barrier to success is inefficient clinical administration of these therapies to the patient. This is due to underdeveloped methods for presenting the cells that results in the majority of them dying or migrating away soon after injection.

This project aims to redress this issue by creating purpose-built delivery vehicles that provide protective environments and solidify upon injection; thus improving the survival, localisation, and clinical effectiveness of cell therapy. In this programme of work, we will demonstrate these concepts within clinically-relevant preclinical models.

    2. Synergetic anti-bacterial coatings solutions

(Parkside Flexibles (Europe) ltd, Sci-Tech Adhesives Ltd and Bangor University)

SAB-Pack: Synergetic Anti-Bacterial Coatings solutions to improve safety and shelf life of chicken meat products.

The aim of the project is the development of new anti-microbial coatings for new packaging solutions that will increase quality, shelf life and safety of chicken meat and chicken meat products.

The coating solution will have multiple activity against a wide microbial spectrum, even at low temperatures as typical for the fresh meat sector. Within this project, these innovative materials will be designed for the usage in MAP trays, soaker pads or sealing foils in contact with poultry products.

The project is expected to have an impact on food poisoning in the UK, which represents a major challenge to the food industry with around 1 million people per year suffering foodborne illness at a cost to the UK economy of over £1.5 billion per annum.

Poultry contaminated with Campylobacter, a pathogenic bacterium, is the major single cause of food poisoning in the UK, with a financial burden estimated to be £583 million.

3.  Multifunctional nano-ceramic surfacing for titanium implants

(Cambridge Nanolitic Limited and University of Sheffield)

Project "Multifunctional nano-ceramic surfacing for titanium implants" aims to explore the technical feasibility of a novel nano-ceramic surfacing for titanium implants developed by Cambridge Nanolitic (CNL) to enhance their biocompatibility and osseointegration.

Cambridge Nanolitic believe that Ti implants with nano-ceramic surface effectively combine the best features of metal implants such as high mechanical strength and formability with high biocompatibility, corrosion resistance and aesthetics of ceramics

It is hoped that the new material technology will produce dental implants that are stronger and more durable than are currently available.

4.  HUNTER: High efficiency thermo electric cooling

(European Thermodynamcis Ltd and The Manufacturing Technology Centre)

The potential market for Thermo-Electric technology is €56 billion, with €26bn for transportation cooling alone.

HUNTER will develop advanced materials solutions to create n- and p-type Thermo-Electric BiTe alloys which will achieve performance beyond anything previously seen.

We will create global Universal Selling Points for Thermal Electric modules with particular application for automotive zonal cooling applications.

This technology will help novel developments in contact cooling and micro-climates, such as seat cooling targeted at the automotive sector, including electric vehicles.

5.  AMMETEX - Advanced materials and metamaterial structures for metatextiles

(Intrinsiq Materials Ltd and Queen Mary University of London)

The AMMETEX project will investigate the feasibility of ‘MetaTextiles’ - prototyping electromagnetic meta-materials including meta-textiles and meta-surfaces from a textile design-based perspective, using low cost high performance print technologies and their associated nano-scale printing inks.

The aim is to explore print techniques to achieve periodic textile surfaces that can be considered continuous and effective at specific frequency bands.

We will develop a practice-based method for ‘MetaTextiles’, supporting experimental textile design approaches and novel materials and ink formulations versus normal approaches used in electronic and electrical engineering.

The project will identify a feasible design and manufacturing solution and carry out a simple proof of concept demonstrator to show the potential for applying MetaTextiles to high-speed mm-wave communication links.

Rather than having a copper or fibre connection to broadband, this technology could lead to wireless connection to the internet for the home, greatly improving the speed of access and significantly reducing the costs associated with fibre installation.

6.  Bi-Yb phospho-tellurite fibre laser for cancer detection

(Glass Technology Services Ltd. and University of Leeds)

This project will develop and demonstrate a low cost tuneable Phospho-Tellurite fibre laser (BTPT-laser) operating across the 1000-1500nm bandwidth.

This will allow endoscopic surgeons to unambiguously detect the precancerous and cancerous tissue by producing images and chemical maps, differentiating between cancerous and healthy tissue, but also determine the shape and size of the cancer/precancerous region for resection.

At present this capability is not available anywhere in the world.

Advanced Materials: a vital underpinning technology

Surgical tools made of advanced material
Surgical tools made of advanced material

Seeing such a diverse and interesting range of projects in my portfolio shows the value and reach of advanced materials. Also, there is no doubt about the potential of these companies. Their ideas are excellent.

This is not only my view, but that of my assessment panel that have many years’ experience assessing high-value, high risk technical projects.

We hope that, with the added push from the funds we have committed to their projects, we will see many of these companies delivering next generation technologies, which will repay many-fold the initial investment by the tax payer.

Follow me on Twitter: @Dr_Benwalsh

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