Australian researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are at the forefront of tissue engineering with the creation of skin cell growth-enhancing factors that can be sprayed onto burns, ulcers and surgical wounds to improve healing or coated onto implants and wound dressings to assist initiation of cell migration and proliferation. The growth-enhancing factor technology called VitroGro? was developed by pioneering scientist Dr Zee Upton and is based on the discovery of novel links between insulin-like growth factors (IGFs), IGF-binding proteins (IGFBPs) and vitronectin (VN).

Wound healing requires the presence of skin cells, growth factors to enhance migration and proliferation of these cells and scaffolds to support them when required. The tissue engineering team at Queensland University of Technology discovered how vitronectin (VN) improves the delivery of growth stimulating insulin-like growth factors (IGFs) to their receptors called type-1 IGF receptors on cell surfaces. Dr Upton and her team realised this phenomenon could be exploited by delivering IGFs and VN to situations where cell proliferation and migration is required, such as in wound healing and tissue replacement therapies. In particular, the investigators believe the use of VitroGro? complexes will be especially beneficial for the healing of burns and in other situations where the wound repair process is delayed or tissue regeneration is required.

Traditionally, the production of mammalian cells in vitro for applications in human health requires the use of livestock-derived blood serum to supply necessary growth factors. This is problematic, as serum derived from livestock sources runs the risk of contamination by pathogenic organisms. Tissue culture bead surfaces coated with VitroGro? are able to supply the necessary growth factors for in vitro cell growth, thereby providing much safer production of human cells or recombinant proteins.

The VitroGro ? technology platform is being commercialised by the start-up company Tissue Therapies ( which was recently successfully floated on the Australian Stock Exchange. Tissue Therapies holds the exclusive international license to patents for the VitroGro? ‘Growth Factor Complex’ and ‘Modulation of Cell Migration and Growth’ and has employed Dr Upton as the Chief Scientific Officer to further develop the company’s intellectual property in the field of skin regeneration. Recently, Tissue Therapies announced animal trials to assess the potential of VitroGro? as a treatment for paediatric burns, which will be conducted by leading Australian burns surgeons based at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Brisbane. Other research includes the use of VitroGro? to support the growth of human embryonic stem cells, as these cells are expanded using similar approaches to skin cells. Hence it is likely that VitroGro? technology could also be translated into the embryonic stem cell and other cell culture applications.