Incredible tales of nonwovens: creating a revolutionary blood-filtering technology
The UK’s Nonwovens Innovation and Research Institute (NIRI) has expanded rapidly over the last few years – it now has a staff of over 20 dedicated researchers and handles around 30 client-confidential projects at any given time.
Formed as a spin-out from the University of Leeds in 2005, NIRI brought together dedicated nonwoven specialists to build on the momentum already generated by the work of the established Nonwovens Research Group (NRG).
Comprehensively-equipped laboratories for nonwovens at University of Leeds include carding, airlaying, needle-punching, hydroentangling, thermal and chemical bonding, and a wide range of finishing techniques. The most recent investments have been in units for the electrospinning of nanofibres and also the centrifugal spinning of sub-micron fibres.
NIRI’s focus is on developing commercially-viable new nonwoven fabrics and end-products, either by improving the performance of existing nonwoven components or developing completely new materials and technologies.
“Our expertise lies in our core ability to optimise the properties, processing and cost of nonwoven fabrics,” explains Managing Director, Chris Fowler. “This allows us to meet specific product requirements in many different market sectors.
“Whilst large consumer product companies may have extensive research and development departments, it is not generally the case that they have nonwovens experts. Often the companies may have existing products which can be improved through reverse engineering, or we are able to find alternatives that are either better or reduce costs.
“Much of our work is conducted on a consultancy basis, where intellectual property remains with the client. However, in several cases, clients have preferred us to develop a technology in partnership with them.”
One of the most exciting – and potentially momentous – new developments in which the company is currently involved is as a partner in the Sanguis Project, which is partially-funded by the UK’s innovation agency, the Technology Strategy Board.
This brings NIRI together with Carbosynth, a specialist in carbohydrates and nucleosides for the pharmaceutical and biotech communities, Macopharma, an international leader in the fields of transfusion, infusion and bioengineering and the UK’s NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT).
And their plan could well prove to be game-changing for the blood transfusion industry worldwide – a new filtration technology which can successfully remove antibodies from donated blood.
The feasibility of developing such a product by employing NIRI’s Hydrospace nonwoven technology containing an active ingredient for the selective removal of harmful antibodies in donated blood plasma has already been proven in a previous UK Technology Strategy Board-funded feasibility study.
Hydrospace fabrics are lightweight hydroentangled fabrics with unique internal cavities within the cross-section. These can be of many different shapes and sizes, and cavities smaller than 0.5mm in diameter can be engineered. The cavities can be filled with gels, waxes, cosmetics, detergents and solid particles to functionalise the fabric.
Hydrospace enables the storage and release, or the controlled delivery of functional or active agents from the cavities. Fragile, hydrophilic and particulate materials can be introduced to the cavities during fabric formation. Adjacent spaces can be filled with different materials or the same spaces can be filled with dispersions, gels or combinations of solids and liquids as the fabric is made. The upper and lower surfaces of the fabric can be engineered to control the rate of delivery of the contents.
Carbosynth, meanwhile, is able to draw upon a wide range of experience in chemistries and processes, especially in the fields of carbohydrates and nucleosides. Carbosynth offers a wide range of products based around carbohydrates and has recently opened laboratories in the UK to expand this further as custom synthesis is one of its fastest-growing business sectors It also develops a range of niche fine chemicals that include versatile building blocks or products with specialist applications ranging from biochemical reagents, natural antioxidants and coupling agents, to activators in peptide and oligonucleotide synthesis.
The Sanguis project team is currently working to combine Hydrospace with a Carbosynth active ingredient, in order to develop a robust, high-quality blood filter which is effective at removing blood-group specific antibodies.
This filter could conceivably enable the production of universal plasma and once developed, the blood pack manufacturing partner, Macopharma, is planning to gain marketing authorisation approval and commercialise it.
The technology will also demonstrate benefits for platelet filtration and anti-rejection therapies for transplantation, the researchers believe. Universal plasma and plasma-rich blood components will enable transfusion to all A-B-O blood groups and allow hospitals to keep a single stock of plasma components on site, reducing patient risk from transfusion mismatches or delays. Emergency services and rapid response units could also benefit from these universally-transfusable products.
In addition to these clinical and quality-of-life benefits, health services will be able to reduce wastage, administrative, and logistical costs.
While the consortium is developing this filter in the UK, with the National Health Service (NHS) as a partner and potential customer, the health and business opportunities apply to blood banks and health service providers globally.
NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) is a joint England and Wales Special Health Authority. Its remit includes the provision of a reliable, efficient supply of blood and associated services to the NHS in England and North Wales. It is also the organ donor organisation for the country, and is responsible for matching and allocating donated organs.
With a presence in 70 countries, Macopharma has more than 2,200 collaborators and four production sites dedicated to the manufacture of transfusion products. It is the first supplier of in-line systems and the second largest supplier of blood bags in Europe. Over the years, the company has become one of the main leaders in transfusion therapies worldwide, with major innovations contributing to all stages of blood processing and with a strong reputation for making high quality products.
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