€2.5m grant to research remote control healing

Alicia El Haj, Professor of Cell Engineering at Keele University, has been awarded a prestigious European Research Council (ERC) Advanced Grant to design and develop ways for remote control healing of the human body.

Imagine if doctors could heal patients via remote control. Following simple injections into regions of the body, they could activate internal cells by an external bandage, and then remotely control how specific tissues heal.

This ERC funding, worth €2.5 million over the next five years, presents a unique opportunity for scientists to understand, design and develop a new dynamic treatment platform to do just that – “dynaceutics” – which the researchers propose will extend the therapeutic horizon and provide a new form of remote-controlled healing in the future.

This major award success is the culmination of a twenty-year research career for Professor El Haj at Keele, who will be moving to the Healthcare Technologies Institute at the University of Birmingham in September 2018, from where this research project will be carried out together with existing collaborators at Keele’s Institute for Science and Technology in Medicine and also the Robert Jones & Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital NHS Foundation Trust.

Professor El Haj and her team have already identified key receptors such as ion channels, integrins and growth factors which respond to mechanical cues on the membrane and activate downstream pathways.

Professor El Haj said:

“Our research project will use breakthrough nanotechnologies to tackle the complex interdisciplinary question of how scientists can “bottle” agonist substances – the drugs which initiate a physiological response when combined with a receptor – in order to influence or regulate mechano-sensors on membranes.

“Once we understand this then we will be able to tailor and design external remote control devices which will allow these sensors to be controlled remotely.”

Professor Mark Ormerod, Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Provost at Keele University, commented:

"This is a hugely impressive and prestigious achievement in what is a highly innovative and important field of medical science, which speaks volumes about the quality and calibre of Professor El Haj's research."