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Textile Technology - Can we really grow leather in a lab?

Introduction

My name is Dana and I am a 1st year EPSRC-funded PhD student at The University of Manchester. My project is interdisciplinary, spanning across the Textiles and Biomaterials research groups. I also need to draw on the Chemistry knowledge I learned at Undergraduate level. I work within the broader Department of Materials and spend most of my time on the Sackville Street Campus. My research aims to grow leather in a laboratory using tissue engineering techniques. It is hoped that this method could potentially be more environmentally, socially and ethically sustainable than current manufacturing practices.

In Depth…

At school, I enjoyed learning about a broad range of subjects. By A Level, I narrowed my favourite subjects down to Chemistry, Biology, Maths and Textiles. Teachers advised me to drop Textiles, so I could focus on more academic subjects. However, I persevered, since I enjoyed the subject so much. Textiles is, sadly, often undervalued as a subject in schools due to a lack of understanding. It offers many more career prospects than the stereotypical fashion designer. The scientific side of the subject, Textile Technology, is a fast-growing industry, with many exciting innovations already discovered. These textile products are designed to perform specific functions, as opposed to simply looking attractive. Examples of products already developed include smart, electronic textile garments to monitor patient health or army officer location. The technology spans a wide range of industries, also including agriculture, construction and sports. In fact, it would be difficult to find an aspect of modern life without Textile Technology in action!


My journey progressed through studying a Chemistry degree at The University of Durham. I appreciated the quaint city, having originally come from a rural area, and enjoyed participation in several extracurricular societies. During my degree, I gained a strong core knowledge and skillset that would be useful in any future career path, not just scientific. I confirmed my key interests were in the Biological and Materials fields. During my Master’s, I completed a year in industry with Solvay, specialising in composite materials for high performance automobiles. This gave me valuable, first hand work experience in Textile Technology. Following graduation in 2018, I took a year out to go travelling and learn more about the world. A fascinating exhibition on ‘Fashioned From Nature’ at the V&A Museum in London really captured my interest in sustainable fashion.

Meanwhile, society has become increasingly aware of the harmful impacts that materials can have on the environment. Plastics in particular have received a lot of negative media coverage. Animal welfare activism has reached broader audiences through social media. The proportion of people classifying themselves as vegetarian, or even vegan, is growing. Even those still consuming animal products are conscious about cutting down to lower negative health and environmental impacts. I myself converted to vegetarianism a couple of years ago. Leather is a luxurious fabric used in a variety of high-end fashion and furnishing products. It does however raise animal welfare concerns as it is made from animal skin, mostly wasted in the meat industry. As more people become vegetarian, we may need other sources of leather to meet demand. We should avoid equally harmful plastic alternatives though. Human skin is already grown in laboratories for medical skin grafts, so perhaps we could use similar techniques to grow animal skin? This is exactly what I shall work on over the next few years. This topic perfectly combines my academic and personal interests.

A typical working day could involve a mixture of: laboratory work; reading literature; analysing data; writing up; presenting research or teaching. I collaborate with staff members from many different departments. This variety of work during a PhD can make it more interesting than a typical day job. I am excited to see where my research goes! Maybe one day, lab-grown leather will make high street jackets… I am very lucky to be meeting my niche subject interests through this PhD. After completion, I hope to return to industry for a while. I may either continue down the sustainable fashion route or move into lab-grown meat research.

Going Further…

If you are interested in learning more about the potential of lab-grown leather, see this paper outlining research by another group:

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2589234719300193

For The University of Manchester Department of Materials website, including many other interesting research projects:

https://www.materials.manchester.ac.uk/research/

To learn more about lab-grown meat technologies see this news article:

https://www.economist.com/international/2019/10/12/plant-based-meat-could-create-a-radically-different-food-chain

For the unique courses available at The University of Manchester specifically in Textile Technology:

https://www.manchester.ac.uk/study/undergraduate/courses/2020/09900/meng-materials-science-and-engineering-with-textiles-technology/

https://www.manchester.ac.uk/study/masters/courses/list/08611/msc-textile-technology-technical-textiles/

Youtube videos introducing other textile technologies:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OuXPCXEKvSo

https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=smart+textiles

Career prospects:

https://nationalcareers.service.gov.uk/search-results?searchTerm=textile+technoloy


 

Leading the way in biomaterials!

by YPU Admin on January 18, 2018, Comments. Tags: Biomaterials, cells, nanoscience, PhD, and Research

Introduction

Hi! My name is Zara Smith and I’m a 2nd year PhD student at the University of Manchester. I’m funded by EPSRC (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council) and am currently based on the North Campus of the university. I am part of the Biomaterials research group headed by Prof. Julie Gough.

I finished high school in 2011, with A levels in Biology, Chemistry and English Literature.  Though my decision to study Biology was a quick one and rather rushed, I REALLY enjoyed studying for my undergraduate degree at the University of Hull, and loved it enough to continue onto a Master’s degree in Nanotechnology and Regenerative Medicine at UCL. I took a year out following this and worked as a Trainee Assistant Analytical Chemist for TATA Steel in their environmental monitoring department, before deciding on my PhD project. My work at Manchester focuses on repairing tissues in the body that naturally would not heal by themselves. I work specifically with the Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL), a major knee ligament, which accounts for the majority of sports injuries and has a high rate of reintervention post-surgery.

So far my PhD has been great! I’ve travelled to a European conference in Switzerland to present my work and been to another here in Manchester, where I have met academics from all over the world. Hopefully there will be many more opportunities to share my research with the academic community!

In Depth...

I first became interested in the field of Biomaterials when I was doing my undergraduate degree, specifically the tiny biological interactions that happen at a surface and how we can use those interactions to guide a desired biological response. I have always been interested in creating biomedical devices and helping to create something which would improve the life of an individual and the medical field in that area, seemed almost like a calling! After graduating from my Biology degree, I immediately began my Masters. I completed a research project on the nano-delivery of growth factors to a model central nervous system, which only served to fuel my interest in the bio-responses of cells to materials on the micro and nano scale. 

After the completion of my Master’s degree, though knowing I wanted to do a PhD, I decided it was time to take a year out, gather some industrial experience and take the time to find a project that aligned with my interests. During this year, I was selected for an assistant position at TATA Steel where I performed both regular sampling analysis and novel research in analytical chemistry. I chose the ACL project at Manchester as it sounded fascinating and combined all the areas I find interesting; fast forward a year and I still absolutely love it! The project itself focuses on producing materials that will encourage cells taken from the ACL to produce a protein scaffold that matches as closely as possible the protein scaffold present in the native ACL. This means that the cells will start laying down the protein building blocks that are integral to building a native ACL, replacing the one that has already been irreparably damaged. We are aiming to achieve this through manipulating the cells at the surface of the materials with both physical cues and proteins.

(A picture of ACL cells from a light microscope!)

For the most part, my days usually consist of lab work, planning experiments, data analysis and reading and writing.

Due to the nature of the field, our group is highly interdisciplinary. We have members from all kinds of disciplinary backgrounds spanning biological sciences, chemistry and all types of engineering. This in itself makes for a very interesting working environment where minds from very different backgrounds can come together and work to build materials/technologies.

 

Going Further...

If you are interested in perusing Materials sciences, the University of Manchester School of Materials webpage is here > http://www.materials.manchester.ac.uk/

Interested in the Biomaterials work in my group? Find out more here > http://personalpages.manchester.ac.uk/staff/j.gough/ and here > http://www.materials.manchester.ac.uk/our-research/research-groupings/biomaterials/

We also have a school blog which details life as a materials student and interviews a range of students and lecturers > http://www.mub.eps.manchester.ac.uk/uommaterialsblog/  

If you are interested in the societies associated with biomaterials research, take a look here > https://www.uksb.org.uk/