The tissues in our bodies are remarkable materials for many reasons, not least of all because they have widely different functions on different lengthscales. The bulk of our tissues is made up of the extracellular matrix. On an atomic and nanoscopic lengthscale, the extracellular matrix provides a communication systems between the cells in the tissue; on a microscopic lengthscale, it provides the scaffold that supports those cells, i.e. provides a “home” for the tissue’s cells; and at the macroscopic lengthscale, the extracellular matrix is the material which forms the structures in our organs, our blood vessels, bones, tendons, intestines, etc. Understanding how all these functions can arise in a single material is not only essential for understanding the biology of tissues, it can give us clues on how to design new smart materials ourselves.
Our main areas of interest currently are understanding the atomic structures of tissues, in particular musculoskeletal tissues such as bone and cartilage, and vascular tissue, with the aims of understanding both physiological and pathological processes in terms of the molecular structures actually involved in processes such as development of collagenous tissues, bone mineralization and the changes in tissues associated with ageing. The pathological processes we are particularly (but not exclusively) interested in are vascular and kidney calcification, osteoarthritis and osteoporosis.
All our projects are highly interdisciplinary and we collaborate with a wide variety of biologists, medics and clinicians as well as theoretical chemists and physicists, materials sceintists and engineers; the unifying feature is the application of physical chemistry principles in biology and medicine. The main structural characterization technique we use to study molecular structure in tissues is solid-state nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy. We use 2D and 3D 13C and 15N NMR to study molecular structure in native tissues and in in vitro tissues. We also apply the relatively new methodology of NMR crystallography, a combination of NMR, powder X-ray diffraction and first principles calculations, to deduce crystal structures of materials related to those of native tissues, for instance the mineral component of bone.
Please see our group website for more details of our projects and funding.
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