Dr Nicholas Evans is Professor in Bioengineering with a joint appointment between the Faculty of Medicine and the Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences at the University of Southampton.
"My research focuses on how materials and cells can be used to promote the repair and regeneration of damaged or diseased tissues."
Nick was appointed as a lecturer in Bioengineering at Southampton University in January 2011. He holds a dual appointment between the Faculties of Engineering and Physical Sciences and Medicine, where he is based in the Centre for Human Development, Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine.
He completed a PhD at King's College under the supervision of Prof John Pickup, where he researched techniques in fluorescence spectroscopy for tracking metabolism in cells by using their natural fluorescence. After experiencing some of the excitement of stem cell biology, he worked as an MRC postdoctoral fellow at Imperial College researching the effects of extracellular matrix on the differentiation of embryonic stem cells. He then took a postdoctoral position at Stanford University to study how delivery of Wnt proteins in liposome carriers could be used to promote wound healing, before his appointment at Southampton.
He now leads a research team working on several aspects of regenerative medicine relating to bone (see Research pages), and collaborates with a number of other researchers in the UK and Europe.
He is currently Deputy Head of the School of Human Development and Health (one of 4 schools in the Faculty of Medicine), chairs the Scientific Advisory Committee for Wessex Medical Research, and has acted as committee member on several panels, most recent as core member of BBRSC Committee C.
He teaches on the University’s Bachelor of Medicine and Masters of Engineering courses (see Teaching section), and regularly explains his research to schools in the local area through the University’s outreach programmes. He leads a residential workshop for school students on biomedical engineering with the Smallpeice Trust.
Research in our labs focusses on regenerative medicine. Regenerative medicine is an area of scientific research that aims to develop drugs and technologies that replace or improve the function of organs or tissues. Often disease or injury leads to permanent damage to the body. In many cases this can lead to the need for transplanted tissue, which may be in short supply or simply not available.
By developing new nanomaterials, stem cells and new drugs, we hope to replace tissue, or to stimulate tissues to regenerate themselves. We are primarily focussed on bone repair, but we also have interests in antibiotic drug delivery for killing intracellular bacteria.
We focus on two main focus areas of research: (1) nanomedicine and drug delivery and (2) mechanobiology.
Bubbles and broken bones
Broken bones are a huge problem for the NHS. One in three of us will break a bone in our lifetime. Although most cases will heal naturally, in a surprisingly high proportion of cases - around 1 in twenty - the bone will fail to heal properly. This type of bone fracture is called a non-union or a delayed union, and they can be devastating for the person affect. They can lead to months of pain and immobility. They are also very expensive, with the cost estimated to be half a billion /year.
The only treatment available to patients at present is surgery – often multiple rounds. There is no pill or injection that you can take to improve or speed up fracture repair.
We want to change this.
Our vision is that in future, patients with non-union or delayed union will be able to go into an outpatient appointment and receive an injection and bone fracture stimulation to speed up bone healing to get them back living their lives better and sooner.
To achieve this we are working with Prof Eleanor Stride and colleagues at the University of Oxford to explore the utility of ultrasound and either microbubbles or nanodroplets for promoting bone repair.
Microbubbles are used all the time in ultrasound imaging in hospitals. They reflect ultrasound waves, to enable doctors to see our tissues and organs more clearly. However, they can also be made to vibrate when the correct pitch of sound is used. This is exactly analogous to the way in which an opera singer can sing to make a glass vibrate or smash. Nanodroplets are much smaller, and are made of a volatile chemical (a perfluorocarbon) that vaporises to form a microbubble in the changing pressure of an ultrasound wave. We are harnessing this property to delivery drugs and energy to bone fracture sites.
Killing bacteria with nanoparticles and microbubbles
Burkholderia is a genus of bacterium that causes a deadly disease called melioidosis. Antibiotics administered orally or intravenously often don’t work very well against it as the bacteria hide away and grow in white blood cells called macrophages.
We are developing a type of nanoparticle therapy - polymersomes - to sneak antibiotics inside cells infected with bacteria.
What we do
In the lab we do a range of experiments to achieve this. We have a micro and nano-fabrication lab for the production of microbubbles and nanobubbles.
We have full tissue culture and molecular biology facilities for growing human bone cells, which are isolated from patients undergoing hip replacement surgery at Southampton General Hospital.
We have a Biosafety Level 2 lab for bacterial work.
We have a full suite of ultrasound stimulation equipment, including amplifiers, signal generators, transducers and cavitation detectors, as well as bespoke devices for stimulation of cells, tissues and in vivo models.
Current PhD Students
Nick is a fellow of the Higher Education Academy and leads an innovative programme of teaching, having established an new multidisciplinary module in Southampton which he has now led for ten years. This module was recently awarded 'Most Innovative/Creative Module' in the University's VLE awards. In addition he teaches on and administer the University’s Bachelor of Medicine, Masters of Engineering and MRes courses. This includes teaching subjects as diverse as basic biology for engineers, stem cells and tissue engineering, metabolism and liver physiology.
He also have a keen interest in outreach – he organises a yearly residential workshop for school students on biomedical engineering with the Smallpeice Trust, and participate in a range of outreach programmes.
External roles and responsibilities
After a degree in Biology from the University of Nottingham, Nick completed a PhD at King's College under the supervision of Prof John Pickup, where he researched techniques in fluorescence spectroscopy for tracking metabolism in cells by using their natural fluorescence. After experiencing some of the excitement of stem cell biology, he worked as an MRC postdoctoral fellow at Imperial College researching the effects of extracellular matrix on the differentiation of embryonic stem cells. He then took a postdoctoral position at Stanford University to study how delivery of Wnt proteins in liposome carriers could be used to promote wound healing, before his appointment at Southampton.
His research focusses now focusses in biomaterials in drug delivery and regenerative medicine. He has held personal fellowships at Stanford University and at Imperial College. His research is highly multidisciplinary, at the interface of the biological, medical, engineering and chemical sciences.
He has been awarded ~£2 M in grant income, and he has more than 4500 citations, >2000 of which are post-2016, with papers published in high impact and respected journals such as PNAS, Nature Materials and ACS Nano.
- Medical Research Council (UK) Career Development Fellowship (2008)