Three UK-based inventors have been shortlisted by an international jury for the European Inventor Award 2018: British husband-and-wife team Eileen Ingham and John Fisher CBE are finalists in the “Research” category, while London-based Irish inventor Jane ní Dhulchaointigh and team are nominated in the category “Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises”.
The winners of this year’s edition of the European Patent Office’s (EPO) annual innovation prize will be announced at a ceremony in Paris, Saint-Germain-en-Laye, on 7 June 2018. While the five category winners will be decided by the jury, the public can vote online to select the winner of the Popular Prize.
Eileen Ingham and John Fisher: inventors of all-purpose donor tissue
Rising life expectancy, along with an increasing incidence in chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease and obesity, is putting a strain on our bodies. We are getting much more use out of our joints, tendons and heart valves than ever before. A fresh approach to regenerative medicine developed by British immunologist Eileen Ingham and bioengineer John Fisher could provide an answer to overuse and extra wear as well as treat complications of certain diseases.
The British research duo invented a process that removes almost all DNA and cellular material from tissue to leave a scaffold that can be regenerated by a patient’s own cells without causing adverse immune reactions. Their method is currently used for wound care, heart valve replacement and orthopaedic and surgical applications, and it may one day open the possibility for complete replacement organs that the body grows itself.
For this achievement, Ingham and Fisher have been nominated for the European Inventor Award 2018 as finalists in the “Research” category: “Ingham and Fisher’s innovations demonstrate that European medical research is advancing the field of regenerative medicine,” said EPO President Benoît Battistelli on announcing the 2018 finalists. “Uniting their skills as immunologist and bioengineer, their method has the potential to improve quality of life for our ageing populations.”
Ingham and Fisher’s novel decellularisation process, protected by European patents, works by gently “washing” donated tissue to produce an organic structure that has the same physical form and function as the original tissue but contains no cells. The resulting “acellular biological scaffolds” can then be transplanted into or grafted onto the patient and regenerated with the patient’s own cells: “The reason this process is both novel and distinctive,” says Fisher, “is its ability to recreate the scaffold as a tissue-specific scaffold that, when implanted, matches the properties of the tissue that is being repaired or replaced.”
The husband-and-wife team developed their technology at the University of Leeds. In order to bring their invention to market, they co-founded the University of Leeds spin-off company Tissue Regenix in 2006, which has licenced the core patents from the university and strengthened its portfolio with more patents of its own. The company subsequently became Tissue Regenix Group PLC and commercialises the technology under the name dCELL®. As a platform technology, Ingham and Fisher’s technique can be used in a wide range of medical applications. One of the most promising ones is in the treatment of diabetic foot ulcers. Decellularised human skin is used to repair the wounds associated with diabetes mellitus, and the treatment is approved for use in both the US and UK.
Jane ní Dhulchaointigh: creator of Sugru, the world’s first mouldable glue
Irish product designer Jane ní Dhulchaointigh and her team at the London-based company FormFormForm aim to reshape consumers’ relationship with the things they own by enabling them to repair, modify and improve them with a product called “Sugru” (taken from the Gaelic word for “play”). The world’s first mouldable glue is as malleable as clay yet has the adhesive qualities of super glue.
For this invention, ní Dhulchaointigh and her team have been nominated as finalists for the European Inventor Award 2018 in the category “Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises”.
“Jane ní Dhulchaointigh’s invention invites us to rethink our behaviour when it comes to discarding damaged or broken items in favour of a more considerate treatment of our environment,” said EPO President Benoît Battistelli. “The invention is proof that innovative European SMEs can benefit from patents to effectively establish their leadership in the development of sustainable consumer products.”
Ní Dhulchaointigh, who grew up in Kilkenny, Ireland, earned a Master’s degree in Product Design at the Royal College of Art (RCA) in London in 2003. The idea for a mouldable glue to fix, improve and reimagine items developed during her time at the RCA. After 8000 hours spent in the lab together with her team at FormFormForm Ltd., founded in London in 2004, Sugru was launched in 2009.
The unique product adheres to most materials and is mouldable for about 30 minutes after being removed from its packaging. Unlike similar products such as adhesive tapes and glues, Sugru can be moulded to form “missing parts”, such as a handle for a favourite coffee cup, and invites users to get “hacking”.
Feedback from a 150-strong user community during the development process was crucial and the crowd intelligence aspect is still vital for the business. There are an estimated 2.5 million users in 175 countries who have mended and customised more than 15 million objects and shared their experiments and experiences with the product online.
“I had a very clear idea for what Sugru could become,” explains ní Dhulchaointigh. “It wasn’t just an idea for a product that maybe somebody might like. I actually believed that there’s the potential to change the world here. It took a lot of hard work and the thing that keeps us going is that it is making a difference to people’s lives and we can see that from every email and story from our users thanking us for what it has enabled them to do.”