Faculty in Focus - FSE
Founder: Chrisoula Chappell
Novel technique promises to revolutionise reconstructive surgery for breast cancer patients.
MEC: Chrisoula, you’re a scientist and an entrepreneur, so please tell us how those two worlds collided.
Chrisoula: Organoid Solutions is the business that I set up to revolutionise breast augmentation for women who’ve undergone complete mastectomies. My whole family has been affected by breast cancer so this is very personal to me and has made me very determined.
Every year 400,000 women worldwide must undergo invasive breast removal because of cancer.
I’m a tissue engineer and biomedical scientist and I know our technology can help these women.
At the moment if you are reconstructing a patient’s breast after a mastectomy, you’re using fat taken from elsewhere in the body and inserting it into the breast. Because that tissue is not in communication with blood capillaries, or other channels so the cells can stay alive, almost 60% of it dies.
What follows is a continuous procedure of the fat in the breast having to be topped up. Women must undergo repeated procedures which are painful and slows down their recovery. They are also prone to infections, scarring and it can trigger leukaemia. All of this is costly to hospitals and the NHS.
Our revolutionary treatment will help restore confidence to these women so they feel the same as they did before all this happened to them.
Our novel technique regenerates the fat that is in woman’s breasts that is lost when they’ve had mastectomies.
We harvest a patient’s fat and, back in the lab, we stimulate its growth using a hydrogel scaffold with artificial blood supply which mimics body structure.
This fat can then be reinserted into the patient’s breast and the tissue stays viable.
This transformative tissue engineering therapy allows clinicians to reconstruct the breast naturally so they don’t need to use artificial breast implants.
All of my studies, up to and including my Ph.D., have been in Manchester and I spent some time at The Christie hospital as a volunteer so I could be close to patients.
I do like my research and academia but I do want to spin out to help those people and solve this issue.
I’m trying to bring two worlds together: to build Organoid Solutions but also my research portfolio.
There is so much potential with this technology too. We are exploring a biobank route where tissue could be stored for the benefit of all breast cancer patients. This technique could also be applied to the liver, kidney, skin and eyes in the future.
MEC: How did you discover MEC and what were your initial impressions?
Chrisoula: While I was a student at The University of Manchester I got an email from MEC about a general course looking at how you can build a business. After those few sessions I decided I really liked enterprise so I took the initiative, went ahead with building my business and I’ve not looked back.
Everyone at MEC was very helpful and very understanding. They tried to encourage me as much as possible to believe in my research and believe in its potential. I’m very grateful. Anything I needed they were always really quick to reply and they were always there to guide me and say ‘you can do this better’.
MEC: Tell us about how your entrepreneurship skills have developed over the course of your time here.
Chrisoula: They developed immensely. I’m a Ph.D. student - a scientist with a scientific mind – I had to develop into someone that has to do business meetings, that has to understand intellectual property and the law around it, finances and using software programmes to analyse where your money goes.
I was coming from a place where you’re only concerned with your science and proving your data to actually doing so much more and getting myself organised. It’s a vastly different world. You don’t only have to validate your science but you also have to be the person that understands the market, what’s the gap in the market, what’s the solution and why would somebody go for you? - that’s a lot to take on board.
You have to develop more effective communication skills too. I know the science but that doesn’t mean an investor will understand. For example, if I talk the way that I talk at conferences they would switch off.
MEC: What were the pivotal shifts in your thinking or behaviours along the way?
Chrisoula: I was not only very determined but I was willing to work very hard to make this a possibility and very willing to see it through.
MEC: How did MEC help you with any challenges or obstacles?
Chrisoula: Any questions I had, whether I wanted to explore collaborations or I needed a mentor, MEC was very helpful. They were also very willing to give me any support that I needed and I really want to thank them for that. Everyone at MEC said to me – whatever you need, we’re here for you. That was really, really good because without having all these meetings and all this information from MEC it would have been a lot harder.
I also got the chance to get in front of an investor and talk about our business – I don’t think I’d have got that anywhere else.
MEC encourages you and believes in you – that’s the most important thing. I’ve seen that in my department but MEC goes above and beyond in how they’re willing to help people.
Organoid Solutions was awarded a £2,000 Kickstarter grant which helped pay for us to go to conferences to build connections.
We also won first place in the 2022 Venture Further Business Start-up Competition (Healthcare Category).
Venture Further is the flagship annual start-up competition for all current students, researchers and recent graduates across The University of Manchester. The competition opens up a world of support programmes, workshops, mentors and networks to nurture and grow ideas.
The £10,000 award will go towards building our online visibility and external partnerships with potential collaborators in Japan and the US.
MEC: What’s one piece of advice you would give to someone at the beginning of their journey?
Be determined. Believe in what you want to do business-wise. Believe in your product or technology. If you believe you become proactive and you undeniably work harder to achieve your goals. It is also important to take feedback and to be thankful and considerate to those that are trying to help you like MEC.Chrisoula Chappell / Founder, Organoid Solutions
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