Molly Stevens: “We can make plasters for the heart”

Three questions to Molly Stevens about regeneration of body tissue.

Name: Molly Stevens
Title: Professor at Imperial College London and at the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics.
Motivation: “Seeing my research ideas reach clinical application and understanding how the body works.”

Molly Stevens. Photo: Linda Forsell

How can your research help the body to regenerate tissue?

“We are designing new biomaterials to regenerate bones, cartilage and heart cells, and even certain systems in the brain.“ ”We use different polymers that we treat with bioactive substances such as peptides or parts of proteins which enables them to attach to the tissue and help create new tissue.”

Can you give any examples?

“We have developed a gel that we can inject into cartilage and that forms itself after the injury in question. We have material that works as an electrical conductor and where we can cultivate heart cells, and in this way we hope to be able to control cardiac arrhythmia. But we also have a type of plaster with heart cells that we can attach to the outside of the heart and it will help create new heart tissue. And we can fill up bones with tiny grains or put in a customised 3D material that is porous so that the blood vessels can grow into it.”

You have also developed a method of regenerating bones inside the body, please tell us how.

“The surface of all large bones in the body is a thin layer of stem cells. We have developed a technique where we can go into that layer and inject a liquid that makes the stem cells start producing new bone material. We can then remove the newly formed bone material and use it to repair damaged bone somewhere else in the patient while the part of the bone we used for cultivation returns to exactly the state it was in before. We can now also cultivate cartilage in a similar way.”

As told to: Fredrik Hedlund, first published in the magazine Medical Science no 4, 2015.