Dr Hazel Fermor

Profile

I was awarded a BSc in Biology from the University of York (2009) before completing a PhD in Tissue Engineering with Professors Eileen Ingham and John Fisher at the University of Leeds (2013). I then spent three years in the same lab conducting post doctoral research before being awarded an academic position in the School of Biomedical Sciences as Lecturer in Musculoskeletal Regenerative Medicine (2016).

I work within the cross-disciplinary Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering and am a member of the faculty for the Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine. I am active in a number of national networks and centres including MeDe Innovation, LBRC and Regener8.

Responsibilities

  • Module Manager
  • Faculty Ethics Committee Member

Research interests

My primary research focus is on the development of novel early-intervention regenerative therapies for cartilage repair, to prevent or delay the onset of osteoarthritis (OA). OA affects 9 million people in the UK and causes severe pain and loss of mobility, with depression being a common co-morbidity. Although traditionally seen as a disease of the cartilage, OA is more commonly being recognised as a whole joint disease, progressing from pathologies not only in the cartilage but also the bones, ligaments and other musculoskeletal (MSK) tissues. My research interests therefore extend to all MSK tissues. I currently focus on interventions in the knee joint, but also pursue interests in the spine, hip and ankle.

Cartilage is unable to self-heal, so any initial damage to the tissue will progressively deteriorate with normal joint loading and movement. This eventually results in the need for total joint replacement. I am leading research into the development, assessment and translation of early intervention cartilage therapies. These fall under two categories (1) injectable self-assembling peptide hydrogels and (2) implantable decellularised osteochondral scaffolds. These regenerative therapies are intended to treat cartilage at different stages of disease progression.

Hazel Fermor

(1)    Self-assembling peptide hydrogels

Softening of cartilage occurs after trauma and with age and is the result of glycosaminoglycan (GAG) loss from the tissue extracellular matrix. We have combined chondroitin sulphate (a GAG) with an 11 amino acid long peptide (P11). We are able to inject this mixture into cartilage where it self-assembles into a hygroscopic hydrogel. Using this technology we are able to restore the normal tissue GAG content and therefore normal biomechanical properties.

Current and future research aims to establish the most effective way to clinically administer the hydrogel into patients and to determine the longevity of cartilage repair.

(2)    Decellularised tissue scaffolds

Progressive cartilage damage is seen as surface fibrillation and tissue loss which cannot be adequately repaired by the body to restore a smooth articulating joint surface. At this stage, surgical interventions are required to replace the cartilage, however current therapies each have limitations. We propose to use an “off the shelf” decellularised osteochondral scaffold. We use a novel processing method to gently remove cells from tissues whilst maintaining the tissue structure and function. This results in a natural tissue scaffold with the properties of native tissues but which does not elicit an adverse immune response upon implantation. The scaffold will be repopulated with the patient’s own cells once implanted in the body to regenerate the damaged tissue. 

Research is currently underway in collaboration with our industry partners to pre-clinically assess the safety and efficacy of these scaffolds and also to enable scaled-up manufacture prior to translation of the technology.

Future research will develop a stratified range of scaffolds to suit the needs of various patient sub-sets and investigate the potential of decellularised osteochondral scaffolds to be used as matrices for regenerative cell therapy approaches.

 

Current and recent research funding: EPSRC

Industry partners: Tissue Regenix Group PLC, NHS BT Tissue and Eye Services.

Postgraduate

  • Development of a decellularised bone-disc-bone scaffold for intervertebral disc repair
  • Characterisation of subchondral bone in the osteoarthritic ankle
  • Characterisation of mesenchymal stem cells in the osteoarthritic ankle

Undergraduate

  • Self-assembling peptide chondroitin sulphate hydrogels as cell carriers
  • Restoration of cartilage proteoglycan content using self-assembling peptide chondroitin sulphate hydrogels
<h4>Research projects</h4> <p>Any research projects I'm currently working on will be listed below. Our list of all <a href="https://biologicalsciences.leeds.ac.uk/dir/research-projects">research projects</a> allows you to view and search the full list of projects in the faculty.</p>

Qualifications

  • PhD Tissue Engineering
  • BSc Biology

Professional memberships

  • TCES
  • ORS

Student education

Teaching Areas:

Tissue Engineering, Biomaterials, Tissue and Extracellular Matrix Biology, Scientific Skills, Cross Discipline Laboratory Placements, Musculoskeletal Biology and Disease.

Undergraduate project topics:

  • Clinical performance of existing and emerging cartilage repair/regeneration therapies
  • Cellular vs acellular approaches to cartilage repair
  • Sterilization methods for musculoskeletal biological scaffolds
  • Minimally invasive delivery methods for self-assembling hydrogels
  • Pre-clinical in vitro simulation or in vivo animal models for the assessment of cartilage repair

Postgraduate studentship areas:

  • Innovative manufacturing of decellularised MSK scaffolds
  • Sterilisation of decellularised MSK scaffolds
  • Self-assembling peptide hydrogels
<h4>Postgraduate research opportunities</h4> <p>We welcome enquiries from motivated and qualified applicants from all around the world who are interested in PhD study. Our <a href="https://biologicalsciences.leeds.ac.uk/research-opportunities">research opportunities</a> allow you to search for projects and scholarships.</p>