What we do
About cell-matrix research
Cell-matrix research is all about how cells interact with their local microenvironment. These interactions are necessary both to control how cells actually behave and to build tissues, which are complex collections of many cell types. In our work, we are determining the molecular events that determine how cells and matrix work together.
Our discoveries are illuminating new principles about how multicellular life is organised. The extracellular matrix is the material outside of cells that creates the three dimensional structure of tissues and gives tissues their solidity. This matrix, comprising a remarkable 70% of proteins and complex carbohydrates in the body, is crucial for nearly every aspect of the way that cells behave. For example, it isessential for cell survival, cell division, cell movements and determining the exact functions that are carried out by almost all cells in the body. Both chemical interactions between the matrix proteins and cells, and mechanical forces that arise within the matrix, determine cell behaviour, and the matrix also controls our immune systems.
Because of its central role in tissue biology, defects in the extra cellular matrix and the way that it interacts with cells underlie many of the disorders of mankind. For example, cancer, heart disease, arthritis, inflammatory disorders, and many skeletal abnormalities have their origins in defective cell-matrix interactions. This means that understanding the basic biological principles by which cells and the ECM work together to form functional tissues is a key requirement for explaining many of the health problems in modern society.
The work carried out within the Cell-Matrix Centre focuses on addressing these essential biological questions. By connecting with clinical scientists, we ultimately aim to translate our laboratory discoveries to improving diagnosis and treating medically important diseases both of western nations and the developing world.
About our research in the Cell-Matrix Centre
The Cell-Matrix Centre consists of 18 research teams. Our basic biology research is conducted by around 45 postdoctoral fellows and 40 PhD students, and is supported by about 30 technicians and support staff. Altogether the Centre is a large and productive international research group of around 140 scientists. We have an overarching scientific mission comprised of three research directions, as follows:
Our scientific mission is to understand how cells make their ECM microenvironment, and how they integrate ECM-derived chemical and physical cues in order to build tissues. By doing so we will discover how changes in cell-matrix interactions cause major human pathologies, and we will open new avenues for disease prevention, diagnosis and therapy.
Research directions within the Cell-Matrix Centre
Our work focuses on three specific areas in cell-matrix biology that we believe will lead to a paradigm shift in our understanding of Development, Ageing, and Chronic disease. These are:
i) Cell and tissue microenvironment - How cells create a three dimensional ECM, how signals from the matrix control cell programming and behaviour, and how altered matrix organisation & cell-matrix interactions cause disease.
ii) Mechanobiology of Matrix - How the physical properties of ECM are determined, how they regulate cell behaviour and the formation of tissues from the nano through to the macro scale, and how altered tissue stiffness impacts on pathology.
iii) Matrix immunobiology - How the ECM controls the immune system during normal physiology and ageing, and how this is dysregulated in disease.
Research directions of the Cell-Matrix Centre laboratories
How the connective tissue around tendons is made: Karl Kadler
Deciphering the structure of matrix molecules: Clair Baldock
Our gooey linings; how mucus is involved in lung diseases and intestinal worm infection: Dave Thornton
How proteins of the inflammatory response are associated with conditions such as blindness and arthritis: Tony Day
How the immune system is regulated to prevent disease: Mark Travis
Understanding how melanoma spreads: Claudia Wellbrock
How cells sense tension in their environment: Christoph Ballestrem
How changing environments can cause cells to kill themselves: Andrew Gilmore
How kidney cells regulate and respond to their unique environment and how this is changed in kidney disease: Rachel Lennon