CÚRAM PhD graduates, Dr Dilip Thomas and Dr Isma Liza Mohd Isa have both been awarded the 2018 Julia Polak European Doctorate Award, as part of the 29th Annual Meeting of the European Society for Biomaterials in Maastricht, the Netherlands in September. They are the fifth and sixth CÚRAM graduates to receive this distinction.
The award is given by the European Society of Biomaterials Council and is presented annually at the event. Candidates nominated for the award must demonstrate that they have received a high standard of research education and training at a European level in the fields of Biomaterials and Tissue Engineering, and that they have also made significant scientific contributions having their research published in high impact journals, and accepted to present at top tier conferences in the field.
Dr Mohd Isa’s PhD research focused on developing a potential new hydrogel treatment for lower back pain caused by disc degeneration, using a substance called hyaluronan (hyaluronic acid). Her research was recently published in the journal Science Advances. Lower back pain is the second leading cause of disability worldwide and a common reason for lost work days. Over 48% of Europeans and 80% of US citizens experience lower back pain due to degenerative intervertebral discs at some point in their lives, with associated healthcare expenditure estimated over $100 billion annually in the US and €5.34 billion in Ireland alone.
Commenting on her award, Dr Mohd Isa from CÚRAM at NUI Galway, said: “I’m delighted to receive this award from the society. Our hope is that the success of this research could have an impact in the spinal research community and lead to potential treatment for people suffering degenerated discs and chronic back pain.”
Dr Thomas’ doctoral research focused on the development of a microgel-based cell delivery device for the treatment of Critical Limb Ischemia (a severe obstruction of the arteries). The research adds to the current knowledge on cell encapsulation strategies (where transplanted cells are protected from immune rejection by an artificial membrane) by investigating the potential of biomaterials for this therapy. As a therapy, microgels would not only help faster tissue repair but also provide treatment for more patients. Dr Thomas is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the Cardiovascular Institute at Stanford University where he currently works on disease modelling using stem cells.
Speaking about his award, Dr Thomas from CÚRAM at NUI Galway, said: “It is an honour to receive such a prestigious award from the European Society of Biomaterials and it is a testament to the excellent training I received from my advisors, Professor Abhay Pandit and Professor Timothy O’Brien, and my colleagues at NUI Galway.”
The theme of this year’s European Society of Biomaterials conference will be ‘Materials for Life’, which expresses the challenge the field of biomaterials is currently facing, which is to provide effective and affordable biomaterials-based methods to repair and regenerate damaged and diseased tissues and organs.