Robert Brown Award winner 2019 – Jennifer Ashworth

by Jennifer Ashworth

My research focusses on using biomaterials to understand how the tumour microenvironment impacts cancer progression. My current role, as a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Nottingham, is to develop a set of hydrogels for breast cancer research. These hydrogels are carefully designed to mimic human breast tissue in both stiffness and biochemical composition. Most crucially, I have developed a way of independently controlling these two factors. The goal is a distinct hydrogel “recipe” that mimics breast tissue at each stage of malignancy. Through recent NC3Rs awards, I am now working with both industry and academia to transfer this technology outside Nottingham to the wider research community. Although I now work on in vitro tissue models, my background is in tissue engineering. During my PhD at the University of Cambridge, I created collagen scaffolds capable of directing cell invasion. To do this, I developed novel image analysis methods based on X-ray Micro-Computed Tomography (Micro-CT), allowing cell invasion to be directly correlated to the 3D structure of collagen fibres. It is my career goal to pool together these different areas of research, with the eventual aim of developing an in vitro disease model capable of replacing in vivo testing.

Robert Brown Award Highly Commended 2019 – Nasia Mehrban

by Nasia Mehrban

It is a huge honour to be jointly awarded the 2019 TCES Robert Brown Early Stage Investigator Award.

I am a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at University College London working with leading surgeons, roboticists, engineers, biologists and chemists to design and manufacture novel ‘smart’ materials that control cell behaviour for clinical applications.

My background is highly interdisciplinary, spanning biology, chemistry and engineering. These skills have helped me cross disciplines from a chemical engineering PhD to post-doctoral positions in peptide chemistry and surgery. I feel privileged to be working with world-leaders in regenerative medicine who have helped me develop a unique skill-set. For example, I was recently invited to spend some time in Dr. Badylak’s labs (Pittsburgh), who was keynote speaker at this year’s TCES-UKSB conference and played a key role in the work I presented this year.

My work has also led me to engineer ligaments, skin, dental pulp, airway tissue and neural tissue, as well as fundamental underpinning work designing bespoke biomaterials for unmet clinical needs. These materials can be modified chemically and physically to suit different tissue types. My aim is to move beyond the modification of commercially-available materials towards tailor-made scaffolds to promote a specific response both in vitro and in vivo

Beyond research I lecture, supervise, and volunteer my time as committee member for the Apollo Society for Translational Medicine, the Royal Society of Chemistry and at public events such as Pint of Science, Cheltenham Science Festival and Stemettes.

I truly thank the TCES committee for this prestigious award and for giving me the opportunity to share my passion with the regenerative medicine community.