Tissue engineer Dr Pashneh-Tala to appear on Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch

Tissue engineer Dr Sam Pashneh-Tala, from the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, will feature in an episode of Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch on 22 September 2019 to talk about the field of tissue engineering, his own research, and how this technology will impact on medical treatments in the near future.

Dr Sam Pashneh-Tala

Dr Pashneh-Tala’s research is focused on developing novel tissue-engineered blood vessels for use in vascular surgery. Using tissue engineering, Sam is exploring methods of growing blood vessels in the laboratory, suitable for implantation into patients. These utilise degradable porous scaffolds, produced from a novel photocurable polymer, seeded with cells and cultured under biomimetic conditions. Sam has designed bespoke bioreactors to support the growth of tissue-engineered blood vessels by mechanically stimulating them using a pulsatile flow to mimic the native blood vessel environment.

Sam is also developing 3D printing and additive manufacturing methods to allow blood vessels of various geometries to be produced. This technology may also be applied to cardiovascular research, allowing complex models of blood vessels to be produced in the lab for use in testing new drugs or vascular devices.

Dr Pashneh-Tala is an advocate for public engagement and passionate about presenting engineering to audiences outside of academia. Through his work with the BBC, Sam has been appointed the Faculty of Engineering Media Fellow, the first role of its kind, working to showcase the outstanding research and engineering conducted at our University through various media and public engagement activities.

The role will see Sam work with other academics across the faculty to help them generate media coverage for their research and area of expertise. This includes providing training on media engagement and producing the first Faculty of Engineering Podcast series. He is being supported in this role by the Faculty of Engineering's communications team and the Media Team.

We caught up with him to find out more about his media appearances and new role:

When did you first become interested in tissue engineering?

Rather uniquely, I have undergraduate degrees in both biology and mechanical engineering (both from the University of Sheffield). I was, and still am, interested in how things work, and also in creating new things. I had trouble choosing between the disciplines when I was younger, so I ended up doing both. Many people commented on this mixture of subjects and said that I should find the niche where it would be most valuable. That led me to tissue engineering. I like to think that I am an engineer designing replacement parts for the most complicated machine in the known universe, the human body. I think it’s incredible to be working in such a cutting-edge field. The challenges in trying to recreate the tissues of the body are huge, but the impact in the treatment of injury and disease will be incredible.

Could you give colleagues a preview of what you’ll be doing on Sunday Brunch?

I don’t want to give too much away but I’ll be talking about tissue engineering generally and how the technology behind growing parts of the body works. I’ll be showing some of the equipment I use in my own research work, producing tissue-engineered blood vessels, and I'll be discussing how close tissue-engineering technology is being used in real therapies.

You’ve also appeared on The One Show, could you tell us about your public engagement work?

I have always been passionate about research communication and have always enjoyed it. In 2017, I was selected to take part in The On Screen Talent Market, in association with Sheffield Documentary Festival. This event allowed academic experts to meet with TV producers to try and develop new ideas or find new talent. I met a producer for BBC Science who was looking for special feature stories for The One Show and thought tissue engineering would be great. We subsequently filmed a feature in my lab and I was also asked to appear live on the show to discuss my research field. Alongside my work in TV, I also take part in local research communication and public engagement activities, including Pint of Science, The MRC festival and Festival of the Mind.

Why do you think public engagement is important and what made you passionate about it?

Research work is ultimately for the benefit of the society and, in a large proportion of cases, is funded through public money. I believe it is our responsibility as researchers to communicate to the public about our work. It’s the least we can do, and we are the people best placed to do it, as we understand our work best. If we can explain what we are trying to achieve, how we are doing it, and why it is important, we are more likely to have the public’s support and be able to continue. We might even inspire some people along the way to become researchers and engineers.

I’m passionate about having the opportunity to present and discuss the latest research developments with the public and exciting them about what is possible or could be possible in the future.

You’ve recently been appointed Faculty of Engineering Media Fellow, could you tell us more about this recognition and what the role will involve?

Following my work with The BBC, I was appointed as the Faculty of Engineering Media Fellow. This is a unique role, alongside my research, in which I work closely with the Communications team to promote the wider faculty through broadcast and digital media. This has included continuing to work with TV production companies to develop ideas, including BBC Science and BBC Four, producing the first Faculty of Engineering Podcast series (soon to be released), and also providing training and advice to academics on engaging with the media. I am looking forward to continuing to develop this role. My vision is to make the University the first place to go to for those working in the media, such as producers or journalists, looking for discussion, comment or content related to engineering.

What do you hope to achieve through public engagement?

I want to educate and excite the public about engineering research. At the University, our work is changing the world and having the support of the public is one of the best ways to ensure we can continue to do this. Engaging the public in our research will also help to produce inspired and enthusiastic people to become tomorrow's engineers and researchers.

Sunday Brunch will be aired on Sunday 22 September 2019 at 9.30am

Follow Dr Pashneh-Tala on Twitter @DrSamPT

Watch Dr Pashneh-Tala’s appearance on The One Show