Dr Nico Forraz, of the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, is one of only four scientists being given the opportunity to take part in a major national programme aimed at helping turn real ideas into businesses.
Dr Forraz and colleagues are able to grow new liver tissue from umbilical cord blood using a microgravity bioreactor - a piece of electrical equipment that mimics the effects of weightlessness originally designed by scientists from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) programme in the USA.
The idea is that drug development companies use the liver tissue to test drugs on, as evidence suggests the tissue will react in the same way that the organ itself does in the body.
Dr Forraz, senior research associate with the Newcastle-Durham-NHS Institute of Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine, beat off stiff competition to get a place on the Creative Pioneer Programme. Although the programme is already well established and has launched 30 businesses, this is the first time it is being offered to bioscientists who are in the early stages of their research career. The initiative is run by the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA) but the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) helped put out a call for bioscientists.
Winners are being offered a two-week all expenses paid residential training course which will run from January 12-22. The programme, which features a mixture of lectures, workshops and one-to-one coaching sessions, encourages delegates to design new types of companies and gives them the skills and resources to develop a new form of entrepreneurship.
Dr Forraz, who hails from Lyon, France, said: "I'm being given a great opportunity to obtain this knowledge and training with NESTA. Science is our bread and butter - that's what we do on a daily basis. This training programme will help us to turn human stem cells into a powerful product for drug testing and will also help us to develop a viable business idea."
Dr Forraz works with his colleague Professor Colin McGuckin to develop human tissues from stem cells for cellular therapies and regenerative medicine. Their ability to grow liver tissue from umbilical cord blood gained international headlines last year.
Dr Forraz explained the background to his drug development idea: "Most pharmaceutical companies test drugs using two-dimensional 'sheets' of tissues or animal models in the laboratory.
"We make liver tissue that is three-dimensional, just as it is inside the human body. These human tissue blocks will be particularly useful to the drug industry. It will also demonstrate the potential of stem cell research for new biotechnology development, creating wealth in the UK."
He added: "If the idea is viable, we would like to create a home-grown business in the North East that should create jobs locally."
- NESTA aims to be the strongest single catalyst for innovation in the UK. In everything we do, we are seeking to increase the UK's capacity to fulfil its vast innovative potential.
- Through a range of pioneering programmes, we invest at every stage of the innovation process; providing early stage seed capital for promising ideas for new products and services; investing in UK talent to ensure it stays in the UK; and experimenting with new ways of engaging the public in science, technology and the creative industries.
published on: 11th January 2006