Science student’s research aimed at new bone healing treatment

Victoria biomedical science graduate Kerry Hilligan spent last summer working in an IRL chemistry lab on a Victoria University Summer Research Scholarship.

Her research contributed to a longstanding collaboration between Industrial Research Limited (IRL) and Singapore’s Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) to create a new product for use in bone healing.

When a patient suffers a major bone injury, the main tools at a surgeon’s disposal are metal pins, bone transplants and other filler compounds. But A*STAR has proprietary technology that uses a biologically active compound to promote bone healing. The compound works by programming a patient’s stem cells to generate new tissue. If the New Zealand-Singapore team can develop this finding into a new wound therapy it could revolutionise treatment options and improve outcomes for people with major bone injuries.

Global supply of the raw material required to prepare the lead compound, however, is severely limited. This raw material, which is derived from an animal product, has no previous market use, and is only produced in very small quantities as a side product of another manufacturing process.

Kerry’s summer challenge was to find a way to scale up production of the key raw material for the new bioactive compound. IRL’s goal was to supply sufficient material to meet the programme’s development-scale needs and to develop a market for a novel, high-value New Zealand-manufactured product.

Under the supervision of IRL chemists Simon Hinkley and Tracey Bell, Kerry Hilligan completed chromatographic purification and chemical analysis to achieve a 10 percent yield of the desired high-purity raw material. Future work will use the methodology Kerry has developed to ensure a reliable supply of this key ingredient.

IRL’s Carbohydrate Chemistry team hosted two research interns in the summer of 2011/2012 and looks forward to the opportunity to host more students in the future. “Having student research interns allows us to tackle things that we know would be valuable but we just don’t have time to do ourselves,” says Simon.