This programme aims to develop a completely new method of producing soft tissue, using degradable, sponge-like scaffolds. These contain the patient’s own fat stem cells (ADSCs) and have the ability to form new fat cells. When transplanted, the scaffold will provide both rigidity and shape but, as it slowly degrades, the fat stem cells develop into mature fat and should fill the affected area with new soft tissue.
When scaffolds are used to reconstitute tissue, they are transplanted without a functioning blood supply, so the host blood supply has to infiltrate the scaffold to facilitate nutrient distribution to the tissue cells, as nutrients can’t diffuse through tissue easily. If this is not successful, the cells inside the scaffold may not have enough nutrients to survive and will die, as is frequently reported by other research groups.
The goal is to develop scaffolds that can be shaped to reconstitute soft tissue defects of all sizes and will ensure timely infiltration of blood vessels into the transplanted grafts to avoid cell death. In order to investigate this, a specialised piece of equipment (a hypoxia chamber) will be used to expose cells to a low oxygen environment similar to that following transplantation. These experiments will influence the ultimate design of the soft tissue scaffold prior to testing in a pre-clinical setting.