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Richardson Travel Bursary recipient, Ursula Simon, reports from Maryland

Ursula Simon

7 Nov 2019

Ursula Simon was awarded a Richardson Travel Bursary to attend the International Symposium on Preparative and Process Chromatography and International Symposium on the Separation of Proteins, Peptides & Polynucleotides and study exchange at the University of Virginia in the USA. Here she tells us about her research and how she was able to meet people from all over the world, travel to countries she’s never been to before and advance her research on 3D printable materials.

‘In my PhD research at The University of Edinburgh I am developing novel 3D printable materials for the direct printing of ion exchange chromatography columns with application in protein purification. Current chromatography processes rely on randomly packed beds due to their fabrication ease. However, computer simulations have demonstrated in the past that ordered packed beds would provide better separation efficiencies. With the invention of 3D printing in the 1980s, it is now possible to manufacture ordered structures with high reproducibility suitable for chromatography.

‘The current hold-back of 3D printing applications in the area of protein separations is the lack of suitable 3D printing materials. In Edinburgh, I have been working to overcome this hurdle by developing functionalised 3D printing materials since 2017. My developed materials incorporate traditional chromatographic ligands such as for example anionic or cation groups which allows the 3D printing of directly functionalised structures for protein capture. The novel materials show excellent protein binding capacities, good protein recovery and mechanical stability comparable to commercial chromatography materials.

‘During the last summer I had the wonderful opportunity to present my research at three different conferences in the USA as well as to further improve my 3D printing skills by visiting two 3D printing companies in Austria. This exciting and educational summer was co-funded by the SCI Richardson Travel Bursary.

‘In July I attended the combined conferences ISPPP (International Symposium on the Separation of Proteins, Peptides and Polynucleotides) and PREP (International Symposium of Preparative and Process Chromatography) in Baltimore, Maryland. Both conferences are a world-renown discussion forum for bioprocessing experts in the field of chromatography. PREP is more focussed on preparative and process chromatography whereas ISPPP targets analytical chromatography. During the conference programme I had the opportunity to present my research in an oral presentation as well as in a poster. My presentation led to some interesting discussions with experts from industry and academia resulting into new ideas for the remaining time of my PhD as well as some potential collaborations. At PREP I helped as student volunteer performing small tasks during the conference to ensure its smooth running. This was an excellent opportunity to experience all the required work behind a conference organisation. Thanks to my volunteering activity I got to know many PhD students from universities worldwide, who became friends over the course of the conference. Connecting with these other students was very easy since we had many similar PhD experiences/challenges to share. This experience exchange was very comforting for me.

‘In August, I travelled to Boston, Massachusetts to take part in the Bioprocessing Summit. The Bioprocessing Summit is a conference attended by over 1500 industrial experts. The conference was divided into different conference streams ranging from cell therapy, analytical & quality to downstream processing. In Boston I was invited to talk about my PhD work with the focus on how it could potentially revolutionise current bioprocesses in the future. After my presentation I was asked when I would open my own company to sell 3D printed chromatography columns. That was a really encouraging question for me, since it revealed the interest from industry experts in my research. It confirmed that my work has “real world” importance and that there are experts believing in its industrial success. All in all, this industrial interest motivates me to advance my research as best as I can in the remaining time of my PhD.

‘In between the conferences, I went to Vienna to visit two 3D printing companies. First, I spent two weeks at W2P Engineering GmbH, a small company producing the 3D printer I am currently using for my research in Edinburgh. At W2P they use their engineering know how to fabricate high quality 3D printer with high printing resolution for various application fields. During my time at W2P I learned how to improve the printing resolution by changing the printer’s set-up as well as by changing some software settings. In addition, I had the chance to use my developed material with one of their prototype printers which had a two times higher printing resolution than the printer I currently use. This short internship gave me the confidence to do small changes to my 3D printer by myself to enhance its printing resolution. Following this short internship, I spend one week at Lithoz GmbH, another 3D printing company which produces a similar type of printer than the one I am using. Their expertise lies in the printing of ceramic materials as well as the development of their own materials. At Lithoz they helped me to enhance my printing resolution by improving my material formulation. In addition, I was able to use one of their printers with my materials, which showed excellent printing results.

‘This summer was a fantastic experience, which gave me the chance to meet people from all over the world, to travel to two new countries and to advance my PhD research with many new ideas. Thanks again for making this experience possible by awarding me with the Richardson Travel Bursary. For more information about my research: u.simon@ed.ac.uk.’

Ursula Simon
PhD Student
University of Edinburgh

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