Sir Bobby Charlton takes leading role in funding research into amputee limb growth

The £60m international project aims for biological regeneration of lost limbs through stem cell technology

Matt Grayson/PA Wire Sir Bobby Charlton
Sir Bobby Charlton

A woman who lost her leg in an accident has welcomed a pioneering regeneration programme which hopes to help amputees grow back lost limbs thanks to key fundraiser Sir Bobby Charlton.

The Ashington-born football legend’s Find A Better Way charity has pledged to fund £60m so experts at Imperial College London and Georgia Tech in America can carry out ground-breaking research to make the aim a reality within 25 years.

Scientists working on the project want to move on from orthopaedics, in which parts of the body are replaced with metal and plastic equivalents, to biological regeneration through the use of stem cell technology.

Carol Forshaw, of Stakeford, Northumberland, lost her right leg when it was ripped-off by a car during a motorcycle accident in 2008.

The 39-year-old’s life was turned upside down when she lost control of her motorbike on a remote Northumberland hillside.

Carol Forshaw from Stakeford, who lost her right leg in a motorbike accident
Carol Forshaw from Stakeford, who lost her right leg in a motorbike accident

Careering into the path of an oncoming car, she was unable to get out the way quickly enough to stop the vehicle slicing through her leg, removing all the skin and tissue down to the bone.

She said: “Anything that gives amputees hope for the future has to be a good thing. It can be very uncomfortable having to wear a prosthetic limb, so anything that frees up this discomfort is welcomed. I just hope that people in the North East get a chance to be part of any future clinical trials that focuses on stem cell technology.”

The technology would work by joining artificial joint tissue, including bones and cartilage, loaded with regenerative agents, with the patient’s remaining tissue and muscle.

There would then be operations to lengthen the bone and fill out the skin tissue, allowing the limb to grow.

Sir Bobby set up his charity in 2011 following a visit to a minefield in Cambodia, where he decided that with modern technological advances there had to be a better way to tackle the problem and improve the lives of those affected.

But the new research is set to help many more people than simply land mine victims.

Sir Bobby said: “When I came across this, I never realised in my wildest dreams that if I ever got a few of my friends together, if I got some business people whose efforts have been really good, then we would have this fantastic opportunity.”

The charity Find A Better Way will support engineers, scientists, and clinicians in the research and development of the technologies needed to regenerate biological tissues, and ultimately entire limbs and joints, with the aim of delivering affordable regenerative medicine treatments to those who have lost limbs or been otherwise disabled by landmines.

Prof Anthony Bull, who will coordinate activities at Imperial College London, said: “This ground-breaking initiative is testament to the vision of Find A Better Way and will solidify our strong historical ties with Georgia Tech in the biomedical engineering field.”

Journalists

David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer