Clementine Boutry receives ERC Starting Grant for groundbreaking research on biodegradable implants

News - 04 September 2023 - Communication EWI

The European Research Council (ERC) has announced that five young scientists from TU Delft will receive ERC Starting Grants. One of these scientists is Dr. Clementine Boutry, from the EEMCS faculty, who has received this prestigious grant for her groundbreaking research on biodegradable implants that can repair nerves.

Paradigm shift in the design of medical devices

Biodegradable technologies offer many advantages for the development of future medical implants, particularly in applications where they are only needed temporarily. Fabricating such devices from biodegradable materials avoids the need for a second surgery to remove the implants after their period of use.

In her project Dr. Boutry will develop biodegradable Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems implants (MEMS) for nerve repair. These MEMS implants form a new class of microsystems made entirely of biodegradable materials, including sensors, actuators (mechanisms that cause movement), and electrical circuits.

Dr. Boutry’s research represents a paradigm shift in the design of medical devices, with biodegradable implants allowing for the first time the in vivo exploration of a promising new therapeutic approach.

Beyond neurosciences, her project will pave the way for many other medical applications including cardiac diseases, with the objective to address crucial societal challenges that could not be solved otherwise.

Biodegradable implants that can repair nerves

Each year, an estimated 300,000 cases of trauma-related peripheral nerve lesions occur in Europe. These injuries result in partial or total loss of motor, sensory and autonomic functions. For large injuries, less than 25% of patients recover proper motor function and less than 3% regain sensation. Accelerating nerve regrowth is a key factor, as the disconnected part of the nerve dies quickly after the injury. Therefore, it is truly a race against time. Dr. Boutry’s research will focus on a new therapeutic approach based on her previous Marie Curie research and on recent clinical findings: the mechanical stimulation of peripheral nerves to accelerate their regrowth. The Nerve-Repair2.0 project will focus on two different medical implants: 1) a first implant providing wireless cyclic mechanical stimulation to the severed nerve, 2) a second implant with an implantable biodegradable MEMS micropump applying constant traction, with the corresponding biodegradable sensors.

There are high expectations of clinical therapies for damaged nerves. The development of new functional biodegradable materials (with tailored magnetic, electrical, mechanical, and chemical properties), and customized fabrication processes in clean rooms will enable the realization of fully biodegradable microsystems, while retaining the established advantages of MEMS (small size, high precision, fast response time, low energy consumption, reliable large-scale production).

Grant for talented early-career scientists

The ERC Starting Grant is a European grant for talented early-career scientists, with a scientific track record showing great promise and an excellent research proposal. The grant of €1.5 million for a five-year research period is intended to enable individual scientists to build their own teams and conduct groundbreaking research.