Materials engineer Professor Serena Best CBE FREng has received the 2019 Armourers and Brasiers’ Award from the Royal Academy of Engineering for successfully using biomaterials to replace and help to regenerate human tissue. The Academy’s new President Sir Jim McDonald FREng FRSE presented the award at the Academy’s AGM on Monday 30 September.
Professor Best is Co-Director for the Cambridge Centre for Medical Materials in the Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy at the University of Cambridge, and over her career she has been involved in the development of biomedical “scaffolds” for both hard- and soft-tissue repair. Her research has focused on ways to enable the body to repair itself, by encouraging cells to assist in the regeneration process, going further than more established biomaterials that are used only for repair. The innovative materials science ideas and developments have resulted in practical, clinical products that have profoundly benefitted patients worldwide.
In the 1990s, Professor Best led bioceramics research at the Interdisciplinary Research Centre in Biomedical Materials at Queen Mary, University of London (QMUL), working on hydroxyapatite – a material similar in chemical composition to the mineral component of bones and teeth. She identified the potential importance of silicate in the hydroxyapatite structure and she and the team discovered that, by carefully controlling the laboratory preparation route and making small chemical modifications, it was possible to make a material that enhances the process of bone repair. Depending on the types of chemical modifications made, the implants can be designed to remain in place, or gradually disappear over time as the bone regrows. Led by Professor Bill Bonfield CBE FREng FMedSci FRS, the team raised funds for a spinout company, ApaTech, based on the technology to produce porous, synthetic bone graft materials for use in orthopaedic surgery. The company was sold to Baxter in 2010 and their bone grafts are now used in a range of clinical applications including spinal fusion and hip revision operations.
Professor Best’s research and development work is captured in around 250 journal papers and seven patent “families”, one of which underpinned a second spinout company, this time from the University of Cambridge. Since 2000, her work has focused on developing scaffolds for soft tissue repair using collagen-based materials. Applications include minimally invasive cartilage repair in the knee; meniscus, ligament and tendon repair; the production of blood platelets; and scaffolds for organoid culture used for stem cell research. She and her Co-Director Professor Ruth Cameron were recently awarded a five year EPSRC Professorial Fellowship to investigate collagen scaffolds for cardiac tissue repair, nerve regeneration and wound healing. Each of these applications requires scaffolds with a specific architecture, and it is possible to control the way cells attach to the scaffold by adjusting the biochemical groups on the surface.
Professor Best said; “I am honoured to receive this Award and am very fortunate to have seen ideas and laboratory work translate into clinical products. The multidisciplinary nature of biomaterials engineering means that developments in the field are a team effort and I would also like to recognise the many researchers that I have worked with and who have also contributed to this success.”
Notes for editors
1. The RAEng Armourers and Brasiers’ Company Prize. The £2,000 prize is awarded for excellence in materials engineering, as demonstrated in the successful application of novel materials science and technology in practical engineering systems. It was first awarded in 2015; the award will be made biennially.
2. Armourers and Brasiers’ Company is a livery company of the City of London. Founded in 1322, it is one of the most significant private sponsors of Materials Science in the UK, providing support at all stages of education from primary schools to post-doctoral level. Materials Science is the modern academic discipline most closely aligned to the Armourers and Brasiers’ historic trade of innovation and manufacturing in metals.
3. Royal Academy of Engineering. As the UK’s national academy for engineering and technology, we bring together the most successful and talented engineers from academia and business – our Fellows – to advance and promote excellence in engineering for the benefit of society.
We harness their experience and expertise to provide independent advice to government, to deliver programmes that help exceptional engineering researchers and innovators realise their potential, to engage the public with engineering and to provide leadership for the profession.
We have three strategic priorities:
- Make the UK the leading nation for engineering innovation and businesses
- Address the engineering skills and diversity challenge
- Position engineering at the heart of society
We bring together engineers, policy makers, entrepreneurs, business leaders, academics, educators and the public in pursuit of these goals.
Engineering is a global profession, so we work with partners across the world to advance engineering’s contribution to society on an international, as well as a national scale.