The Material- and Biosciences Group led by Professor Alan Rowan, brings together the seemingly distant disciplines of physics material- and bio- sciences to understand the intricacies of cell behaviour and their extracellular environments. Comprised of scientists with backgrounds in cell biology, chemistry, physics and materials science the Rowan Lab tackles the fundamental biophysical questions behind cell and extracellular matrix behaviour with the ultimate aim to apply these in clinical settings.

Brillouin microscopy for microscale biomechanical characterization

Brillouin microscopy uses this scattering of light from sound waves to measure sample stiffness in 3D at microscopic scale, without requiring physical access. This permits measurement of sample stiffness in otherwise inaccessible places such as the interior of cells. The aim of this project is to develop a new type of Brillouin microscope, and establish its capacity for biomechanical experiments in the mechanical characterization of both extracellular matrices (ECM) and the mechanical variations within cells.

Example measurement of the structural variations in stiffness within a biological ECM.

Bioactivation of hydrogel to promote wound healing

Polyisocyanopeptide (PIC)-based hydrogel functionalised with tri-ethylene glycol is an ideal scaffold for wound healing approaches as it is a liquid that solidifies at body temperature enabling easy application to complex wound sites and their mechanical responsiveness mimics that of biopolymers. This project is focused on using PIC hydrogel as the matrix for therapeutic wound dressings and by conjugation of bioactive molecules, promote wound healing by bringing about hemostasis as well as disinfection and stimulation of subsequent healing.

Bio-functionalised polyisocyanopetide based hydrogel for use in hemostasis (blood coagulation) the first stage of wound healing.

Combined confocal-rheology platform for studying ECM-cell interactions

Visualization of focal adhesions and cellular activity as a function of applied force by extracellular matrix (ECM) can provide crucial information about the cells response to mechanical manipulation and ultimately allows us to obtain more detailed understanding of mechanotransduction. The aim of this project is to develop a time resolved, 3D imaging and ultimately super resolution capable combined confocal microscope-rheometer setup, that can obtain simultaneous readout of response from single cells (fluorescence microscopy) and the visco-elastic properties (rheology) of ECM that surrounds the cells.

Schematic representation of the setup, where behaviour of individual cells inside biomimetic polyisocyanide hydrogel is monitored using combined confocal fluorescence microscope-rheometer.

Programming Synthetic Dendritic Cells

Dendritic cells (DCs) are antigen-presenting cells that are essential for the activation and proliferation of T cells. These cells can be used as a highly efficient anticancer treatment, but these treatments are extremely expensive. Current artificial DCs (aDCs) are not as efficient due to inefficient multivalent binding of the antigens presented on the aDC. Furthermore, poor flexibility of the aDC backbone limits cluster formation of the bound molecules, which is a very important process in T cell activation and proliferation. This process induces the signalling in T cells and it requires a large scale spatial reorganisation of the T cell receptors bound to effector molecules on the aDC. This project aims to develop a system that can induce the immune synapse and T cell proliferation in a controlled manner by manipulation of the multivalency and molarity of the effector molecules on the flexible aDC.

Immune Synapse Formation