Frankie Atkinson

A picture of Frankie Atkinson

Research Interests

  • Tissue Engineering
  • Stem Cells
  • Biomaterials
  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Mechanobiology
  • Regenerative Medicine

Biography and previous work

In my final year study completing an MEng in Bioengineering with a specialism in Tissue Engineering and Biomaterials Science. I’m currently undertaking my dissertation as part of the Natural Materials Group.

Current Work

Investigating the Material Properties of Equine Tendon Scaffolds

Injury of the superficial digital flexor tendon is a common injury in competition horses, and one which has a high re-injury rate due to the formation of mechanically inferior fibrous scar tissue. For this reason, a more effective treatment is required to aid healthy repair and increase the chance of the horse returning to competition.

Equine tendon research has moved from traditional 2D culture to 3D, where artificial tendons can be produced in vitro. Although providing a cellular environment that is more representative of in vivo, the 3D cultures remain static, with only intrinsic forces present on the cells and extracellular matrix.

The bioreactor is a new tool in the chest of researchers in this field. It applies tensile stress to the in vitro cultures of artificial tendons, mimicking the strain through the superficial digital flexor tendon of the horse when walking, trotting or cantering. This improved in vitro model offers an opportunity to study the effects of a varying rehabilitation programme alongside an improved cellular therapy. It will also be used to provide deeper understanding of tendon regeneration and response of the tendon to mechanical cues.

Dynamic Shear Analysis (DSA) is a technique that uses material flow under shear stress to give an indication of the mechanical integrity of a material. It will be used to test the artificial tendons that have been cultured both with and without strain, and will demonstrate the effect that applied tensile stress has on the strength of the resulting tendon. Other techniques such as Differential Scanning Calorimetry and Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy will be utilised to examine the material properties of the tendon, both qualitatively and quantitatively. A method of tensile testing specimens in a physiologically relevant environment will be developed and used to give the ultimate tensile stress of the artificial tendons, as well as providing data to enable us to link the results of DSA to that of tensile testing and, ultimately, failure in the horse.

Protocols will be established that enable analysis and quantification of the material properties of artificial tendons produced in vitro. These results will go on to form the basis of further research into the effect of different magnitudes, frequencies and duration of stresses on artificial tendons formed using different types of therapeutically relevant cell types, for example Embryonic Stem Cells and Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells.

Personal interests

I have owned and trained horses from an early age and hope to continue this after University. I also enjoy running and have recently completed my first marathon.