Dr Catherine Berry, University Glasgow

RSE Personal Research Fellowship Awardee 2021

A person standing in a kitchen preparing food
Dr Catherine Berry. Photograph: Ian Georgeson Photography

Most of us have heard of stem cells and their potential to help us treat diseased tissues by being able to change into new tissue cells. Less of us may be aware, however, of how they do this. Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) are adult stem cells found in many areas within the body, including bone marrow, that can differentiate into new bone, cartilage, muscle, and fat cells. These cells respond to injury or disease by migrating to these tissues, where they regenerate the damaged tissues, restoring tissue function, for example in patients with bone loss from diseases such as osteoporosis.

It has recently been shown that the success of MSCs is reliant on their ability to release cell signals that are critical for tissue regeneration. These signals are packaged into extracellular vesicles (EVs), which are essentially cell-made bubbles of information released by MSCs that are taken up by the injured/diseased tissue cells.

Dr Catherine Berry, Reader in the Centre for the Cellular Microenvironment, University of Glasgow, received an RSE Personal Research Fellowship to develop the production of artificial EVs as a viable alternative to cell therapy. These EVs will contain key molecules that MSCs release when activated to respond to injury cues and could revolutionise a wide range of biomedical treatments, such as incorporation into synthetic hydrogels within wound dressings to accelerate healing.

Photograph: Ian Georgeson Photography

I saw the RSE Personal Research Fellowship as an opportunity to get back into the lab and drive this research forward. The work is highly multidisciplinary and needs an experienced researcher to link up the bioengineering and stem cell biology; the award will allow me to do this.”

Dr Catherine Berry

A self-professed “traditional academic who has worked part-time for 15 years,” Dr Berry also said, “Working 60% part-time can be difficult to balance building an academic career alongside a busy family life with four children, this RSE Personal Research Fellowship offers me the opportunity to take time out of my current teaching and administration responsibilities to focus on the research.”

A person preparing food in a kitchen
Dr Catherine Berry. Photograph: Ian Georgeson Photography

Looking forward, Dr Berry is excited for two PhD students to join the research team. They will bring with them industry partners, who see a future in using EVs as therapeutics. Enabling further collaboration, this RSE-supported project spans both the University of Glasgow and the University of Strathclyde, bringing together expertise in stem cell science, bioengineering, EVs, artificial vesicles and hydrogels in a way that has not been envisaged before.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ON RSE Personal research fellowships:

Focus on a research project for up to 12 months, funding covers a temporary replacement to enable the awardee to take research leave.