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Cambridge Conduits hoping to win investment to revolutionise vascular grafting

UPDATE 18.11.21 – Alex finished second in the University business plan competition for postdocs – Congratulations! 

He told us: “Absolutely thrilled to have won second prize and secured this funding to further the development of our bioengineered tissue grafts. The mentorship as part of the competition has been excellent, notably in helping develop the commercialisation pathway and regulatory approval aspects of the business plan. Thank you to the mentors for all their help and the judges for recognition of the work and potential of Cambridge Conduits.’

A highly regarded Cambridge business innovation competition, offering entrepreneurial postdocs the chance to win up to £20,000 for the most promising and innovative commercial venture, has selected Hughes Hall Research Associate, Dr Alex Justin, as a finalist.

Run by Cambridge Enterprise and the Entrepreneurial Postdocs of Cambridge, the Chris Abell Business Plan Competition is the annual event for University postdocs who are aspiring entrepreneurs, whether a ground-breaking invention or a social enterprise.

Dr Justin is a postdoctoral Research Associate at the Department of Engineering, working in the field of tissue engineering to generate new biological tissues and organs for transplant. His business plan for the competition was for an early-stage company, Cambridge Conduits, developing next-generation, ‘off-the-shelf’ bioengineered vessels to replace a wide range of diseased or damaged tissues in the human body. The proposal for Cambridge Conduits is for the development of collagen-based tubular grafts which can be manufactured rapidly and inexpensively without the use of cells, potentially reducing the regulatory burden for such bioengineered vessels and enabling their use worldwide. Alex leads a team of Cambridge bioengineers and clinicians, supported by experienced entrepreneurs and regulatory advisors.

Alex told us: “We have identified vascular access grafts for dialysis patients as an excellent beachhead opportunity in the vascular grafting space, where reducing infection rates and other complications is of paramount importance to improving clinical outcomes and reducing demand on healthcare providers.”

However, vascular access grafts are just a first step: “We want to revolutionise the treatment of human disease through our bioengineered tissue grafts, generating complex tissue types in the future and enabling new surgical treatments hitherto untapped.”

Alex completed his MPhil and PhD at Hughes Hall – his PhD investigated novel approaches for solving the vascularisation problem, central to the fabrication of large-scale organs and tissues in the lab, and used a combination of 3D printing and cell-based techniques. As part of his postdoctoral research, Alex developed a new technique for the formation of collagen-based tubular scaffolds which, through collaboration with the Department of Surgery and the Stem Cell Institute, were transplanted into mice as a replacement for the bile duct. Alex has since patented a method for producing human-sized tubes for a range of different tissue types.

The competition judges noted the high calibre submissions and sent six plans through. The Grand Finale will be held online on Thursday 11 November when the finalists will pitch their business plans to an audience of experts in spin-out investment in a bid to win between £5,000 and £20,000. The list of finalists is available here. In 2020 the competition was renamed to honour the life and career of the late Chris Abell, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Professor of Biological Chemistry.

For his PhD work, Alex was awarded an EPSRC doctoral prize and later a Rosetrees Trust Interdisciplinary Award as part of the Engineering and Medicine collaborative team working on tubular tissue generation.

To share your news, please email comms@hughes.cam.ac.uk.