Rotational Training Birmingham – 14th – 18th October 2019


EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Engineered Tissues for Discovery, Industry and Medicine (LifETIME) Rotational Training Birmingham – 14th – 18th October 2019


The LifETIME CDT cohort began a 3 week rotational training course in the glorious heart of England; Birmingham. The city is a diverse, modern and exciting place to be with a long cultural and intellectual heritage, and is home to the University of Birmingham and Aston University.

The cohort arrived at Aston University on the afternoon of Day 1, where Professor Ivan Wall welcomed them with an introduction to Aston, the School of Life and Health Sciences and Birmingham as a city. The students then headed over to Digbeth to take part in the icebreaker social; Ghetto golf. The venue is decorated with graffiti and colourful artwork throughout with an 18-hole mini golf complex and a wide array of food & drink on offer. The social was a great chance for the cohort to meet each other, CDT supervisors and other PhD students studying at both Aston University and the University of Birmingham.

Day 2 at Aston University started with a morning of lectures with Professor Ivan Wall. The students had the opportunity to familiarise themselves with the concept of Biochemical Engineering, particularly related to its role in the manufacturing of complex new drugs. This led to an introductory lecture on Regenerative and Personalised Medicine, and all the associated manufacturing challenges that CDT students will face in one way or another during their projects. Following this, the cohort was presented with some material around Advanced Therapy Medicinal Products (ATMPs), which constitute the new pillar of healthcare: gene therapies, cell therapies and tissue-engineered products. Finally, the students learned about the different bioreactor technologies available to scale-up the production of such medicinal products, making their production economically viable, and leading to the practical sessions to be carried out at Aston.

The cohort had their first ever laboratory practical in their rotational training in the afternoon. Dr Patricia Esteban, Lecturer in Regenerative Medicine, led the session where students handled a hollow fibre bioreactor set-up for the scaling-up of cell expansion, applied principles of mass transfer to the oxygen and nutrients required for growth, and were involved in three related hands-on tasks. Firstly, they had the chance to calibrate a peristaltic pump, understanding the design and engineering aspects of the experiment. They then practiced their cell counting technique to establish the number of cells yielded after expansion; they also determined the progression of growth using surrogate measurements of metabolites consumed and excreted by cells. Students worked in groups and were incredibly engaged, asking fantastic questions and discovering some of the research strengths at Aston University.

On day 3, the cohort arrived at the School of Chemical Engineering at the University of Birmingham for a day of exciting lectures. Professor Liam Grover, Deputy Director of the LifETIME CDT, Professor in Biomaterials Science & Director of the Healthcare Technologies Institute opened the day with a welcome and an introduction to the CDT. Dr Anita Ghag, Lecturer in Chemical Engineering then gave an interesting lecture on how hydrogels can be used to regenerate parts of the body, with a focus on how processing can impact on the final properties of a product which fed into a lab session that the students were completing the following day. The cohort then visited the state of the art Healthcare Technologies Institute laboratory’s and had an informal networking session with PhD students and Research Fellows, followed by lunch with the supervisor pool.

The afternoon session began with a lecture from Professor Liam Grover who described how different biomaterial-driven technologies can direct cell behaviour and vice versa, in systems where cells are used to modify their matrices to give rise to complex structures such as skin, ligaments and bone. This was followed by a Health and Safety lecture ahead of the Day 4 lab practical session from Dr Richard Moakes, Research Fellow from the Healthcare Technologies Institute. The day concluded with a lecture from Dr Alexandra Iordachescu, NC3Rs Training Fellow and Principal Investigator in Organotypic Models for Osteoporosis at the Healthcare Technologies Institute. Her talk focused on Lab-grown tissues as alternatives to animal research which gave the cohort an insight into the advantages of tissue engineered tissues over animal research methods and their relevance to studying disease processes and testing novel compounds.

Day 4 began with a morning of lab practical work, the session was divided up into multiple small experiments looking at a range of processes that can be used to control hydrogel properties. One key aspect of the lab session gave everyone the opportunity to work with the 3D printer, using the cutting edge suspended layer additive manufacturing equipment to print structures closely linked to blood vessels and valves. The experiments were accompanied by current PhD demonstrators, who interpreted the results in context with the current research they are undertaking, and providing real world applicability.

The cohort then returned to Aston University for another afternoon of practical sessions on scaling-up technologies with Dr Petra Hanga, Lecturer in Bioprocessing. Students actively participated in a demonstration on adherent cell culture and passaging, followed by an introduction to inoculation of mesenchymal stem cells seeded onto microcarriers in stirred tank bioreactors. Following this, students carried on their own practical work on bioreactor characterisation in terms of mixing time, working volumes, impeller types and agitation speeds. This final practical session provided the students with an insight in to the Physical Sciences elements that may be encountered during their projects, and demonstrated the importance of interdisciplinarity in research.

Day 5 marked the end of the cohort’s visit to Birmingham, everyone had a great opportunity to network with other students within the CDT, supervisors and staff from the host Universities and learn more about their individual research projects within the LifETIME CDT and about the exciting research happening within the city.


Student testimonials

‘’As a physicist, I was really interested to learn about hydrogels & bioreactors. I feel very privileged to be surrounded by such an interdisciplinary group of people & involved in asking questions like; do we always need animal trials and what are the alternatives?’’ – Georgia Harris, LifETIME CDT PhD student at the University of Birmingham.


“During the first week of the training rotation we were at Aston and UoB. We learnt a lot about Advanced Therapy Medicinal Products and biomaterials, as well as relevant techniques and technologies. We got to talk to experts as well as go into the labs and try out some out some of those techniques ourselves! We particularly enjoyed the hollow fibre bioreactor practical as this cutting-edge technology could even be used in some of our projects. Petra’s talk on bioreactors was very useful for Megan’s project adjusting parameters to influence cell growth. At UoB, the presentation on tissue engineering techniques and their applications for different tissues was an opportunity for everyone to brainstorm, engage and pitch their ideas as a team” Paige Walczak and Megan Boseley, LifETIME CDT PhD students at Aston University.