Robert Brown Award Winners

The Early Stage Investigator Award was first instituted in 2006, and has an illustrious history of distinguished awardees, who have often developed distinguished research careers. On the passing of Robert Brown the award was renamed in his honour. Please see below for information on previous winners.

2006    First ESI Award – Matthew Dalby

2007     Molly Stevens

2008     Julian Jones

2009     Stephen Richardson

2010     Judith Curran

2011     Rebecca Shipley

2012     Mallappa Kadappa Kolar

2013     Jennifer Paxton

2014     Laura Sidney

2015     Laura McNamara

2016     Yvonne Reinwald

2017     Prasad Sawadkar

2018     Mahetab Amer

2019     Jennifer Ashworth

2020 (no conference and no winner due to the pandemic)

2021     George Bullock

2022     Melissa Rayner


Jennifer Ashworth – 2019

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.

Nasia Mehrban – highly commended, 2019

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.

George Bullock – 2021

I am a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Sheffield, whose research focusses on the use and functionalisation of calcium phosphate materials for use in two different purposes: the treatment of medication-related osteonecrosis of the jaw, and the regeneration of bone tissue. This has involved in vitro, ex vivo and in vivo study, the manufacture, functionalisation and characterisation of biomaterials, microbiology; as well as translational activities such as market analysis and patient engagement.

My work is highly translational, therefore involves working with commercial and clinical partners alongside performing laboratory-based research. I have an interdisciplinary background, originally studying bioengineering, which allowed me to develop the skills necessary to perform the diverse tasks required, and have continued this development throughout my post-doctoral career. I really enjoy working in a field that requires such a broad skillset, with no two days ever being the same.

It was a huge honour to be recognised by leaders in the field for this prestigious award, and I am incredibly grateful to the committee.

Melissa Rayner – 2022

I am honoured and extremely grateful to the committee for being selected for this prestigious award.

My research involves taking a multi-disciplinary approach to develop therapies to promote nerve regeneration following injury. My PhD pioneered a new programme of research in the development of small molecule therapeutics for peripheral nerve injury (PNI) and resulted in a patented drug embedded biomaterial for sustained local delivery. Pre-clinical studies have demonstrated that the local delivery of peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma (PPARγ) agonists such as the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (eg. ibuprofen) and glitazones (eg. pioglitazone) have a beneficial effect on regeneration and functional recovery following injury. Being able to repurpose a currently marketed drug such as ibuprofen will accelerate the translation of a therapy for PNI to the clinic.

Another approach to improve regeneration and functional recovery is the development of a stem cell-based tissue engineered product to repair injured nerves. I had the opportunity to work for Glialign Ltd (UCL spin-out company) conducting a pre-clinical study underpinning the translation of an Advanced Therapy Medicinal Product (ATMP) for nerve repair. I am currently involved in the ongoing development of the ATMP product for commercialisation and further investment.

I have recently started a new role as Lecturer at UCL School of Pharmacy, University College London and I am excited to lead my own research in regenerative medicine, combining tissue engineering and drug development to advance a therapy for this unmet clinical need.