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Postgraduate Admissions

Professor Melinda Duer

Heavy Mice & Lighter Things. Understanding How Materials Direct Cell Behaviour

The extracellular matrix (ECM) forms the bulk of our structural tissues and provides them with their particular mechanical properties.  It provides the scaffold which supports cells but more intriguingly, at the molecular level, it provides the communication system between the cells in the tissue and the signals that drives the individual behaviour of cells. 

The ECM is particularly important in degenerative diseases, such as osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, diabetes mellitus and neurodegenerative diseases, and in cancer.  In degenerative diseases, degradation of the ECM directs dysfunctional cell behaviour that progresses the disease and in structural tissues, compromises mechanical properties, for instance increase fracture risk in bones. 

In cancer, metastasis is the frequently fatal progression of the disease; it relies on cancer cells being able to negotiate their way through the ECM.

Our work seeks to understand the key molecular structural and dynamics aspects of the extracellular matrix that drive cell behaviour and to design chemistry-based approaches to repairing damaged or aberrant ECM structures to restore cell, and hence organ, function.

I will outline the various solid-state NMR spectroscopy approaches and imaging our group is working on to understand how the ECM works as a material and how we are now designing therapeutic approaches to compensate when it goes wrong.
T  01223 763934