A researcher at Swansea University working with AgorIP is the third person in the institution’s history to win funding from the Royal Academy of Engineering.
Dr Jonathan Widdowson, 26, who is also the CEO of company ProColl, won the funding of £60,000 that will aid their mission to supply biomaterials to help researchers create innovations such as artificial skin and organs with their first to market vegan friendly materials. This includes a material based on collagen, a major component of connective tissues in the human body, for medical breakthroughs that will offer the solutions for everything from cancer drug testing to (autograft) organ replacement.
With the help of Dr Chris Wright since his PhD studies at Swansea University and supported by the AgorIP and Impact Acceleration (ESPRC) funds/projects, Dr Widdowson has discovered a way to produce non-animal derived products with just two people involved in production to meet global demand.
AgorIP, supported by Swansea University, and the European Regional Development Fund through the Welsh Government, brings together academics, clinicians and businesses to pioneer research into cutting-edge technologies and drive commercial success.
Dr Widdowson said:
“Collagen is currently unaffordable for large scale research and that is holding back people who are doing research that could help save lives. Collagen is the body’s choice of glue, holding us together. Anything that is physically damaged in our bodies is generally repairable with collagen, and that can range from anything to sponge inserts to prototype organs.”
Dr Widdowson first came to Swansea University in 2011 to study genetics within the School of Medicine, having been inspired to help others following an incident during his childhood. He said:
“That degree opened my eyes to the world of science, and the amazing things happening there. When I started working with collagen, I saw an opportunity to go onto the next step of medical care, not just treating symptoms, but fixing the problems surrounding it.
“When I was younger, we had a family friend whose child had an accident with chip pan oil. He had burns from head to toe, and now has no ears. I would love for us to get to a point where we can use our biomaterials to create ears and skin so that he can enjoy a better quality of life.
“I want to make a difference in the world. The materials we produce are used in research and devolvement and we produce in quantities that allow us to be more cost effective. Our mission is to empower researchers to carry out the work that will benefit humanity by providing a market leading quality product at economical prices.
“ProColl is not just looking to create collagen-based materials but we see the biggest problem there. It needs solving before we can move on.”
Dr Widdowson has been working with AgorIP, which has helped him to set up his company, secure funding and travel the world to showcase his products.
Earlier this year, he secured funding from ICURe, a programme of commercialisation support for teams of academic researchers wishing to explore the commercial potential of their research. He said:
“AgorIP really helped us to work out the market and make the product patentable. We applied for funding from ICURe and the Royal Academy of Engineering. We got ICURe, and before I knew it, I was in Dubai talking to thousands of healthcare providers.
“I started there and then I went to Paris and New York, and then to Houston and Austin. I was in Paris when I found out about the Royal Academy of Engineering funding. I was over the moon. It is life changing, and not something we were expecting. AgorIP is doing really wonderful things for companies.”
Berna Jones is one of the Technology Transfer Officers on the AgorIP Project. She said:
“Jonathan is a highly motivated, intelligent and commercially minded person. I started to work with him when he was a PhD student with a bright idea, and I watched him grow and become a company director. It has always been a pleasure working with him and I look forward to follow his success story over the years.”
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