My research is based around developing precisely-defined materials that deliver controlled signals to cells. Thus physical as well as chemical material properties can be used to drive cell behaviour and differentiation in a highly controlled manner. Specific research areas are outlined below.
Biological physics and immunology
We use surface chemistry and nanopatterning techniques to explicitly reconstruct features of in vivo surfaces that control cellular signalling. Assaying the cellular response to these surfaces tells us what features are important drivers of signalling. A key area of interest is cell-cell signaling in the immune system, where we have been able to show that the immune response can be switched on or of by controlling the spatial distribution of cell-stimulating molecules on sub-100 nm lengthscales. We also have an interest in cell adhesion across a range of cell types.
Collaborators: Prof. Mike Dustin (Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology, Oxford University), Prof. Dan Davis (Manchester Collaborative Centre for Inflammation Research, University of Manchester).
Biofunctional nanoparticle synthesis
Inorganic nanoparticles that target specific cell types are moving towards clinical application in a range of imaging and therapeutic applications. Interests include scalable synthesis methods for generating such nanoparticles prefunctionalized in large quantities.
Collaborators: Dr Roberto Fiammengo (Center for Biomolecular Nanotechnologies, Italian Institute of Technology), Dr Nick Terrill (Diamond Light Source).
Nanoparticles in vivo
Understanding how nanoparticles behave in the in vivo environment is important both for developing therapeutic applications: we are specifically interested in treatments for neurodegenerative diseases. Equally, there is a need to evaluate potential health risks from accidental exposure to nanoparticles. We use advanced techniques including SAXS/SANS to investigate nanoparticle interactions with biomolecules, and are developing new optical approaches to imaging nanoparticles within living cells.
Collaborators: Dr Alexandra Porter (Materials, Imperial), Prof. Mary Ryan (Materials, Imperial), Prof. David Dexter (Medicine, Imperial), Prof. Stefan Maier (Physics, Imperial).
Polymer and soft matter physics
My research builds on my background in polymer physics and characterizing soft interfaces. My major interest is in polymer brushes and other surface-confined polymers. I have studied these with a range of high-precision techniques including X-ray and neutron reflectometry and mechanical approaches such as AFM and the surface forces balance (SFB).
Collaborators: Prof. Frank Schreiber (Applied Physics, University of Tuebingen), Dr Bob Thomas (Chemistry, Oxford University), Prof. Jacob Klein (Materials and Interfaces, Weizmann Institute of Science).
2017, EPSRC responsive mode grant to develop graphene-aluminium nitride thin fold sensors for cancer cells, with Norbert Klein (PI), Johannes Lischer, Long Jiao and Peter Petrov.
2014: EPSRC capital grant for Optical Fabrication and Imaging Facility, with Stefan Maier, Neil Alford and Donal Bradley, £728,953.
2010-2014: NIH Nanomedicine Center for Mechanical Biology Controlling the Immune Response. Network grant chaired by Mike Dustin (NYU), Mike Milone (U. Penn.) and Carl June (U. Penn.) £130,945 (Imperial subcontract).
2012: Development of Magnetic Micro- and Nanostructures for the Application of Cell Treatment and Phenotypic Profiling of Cell Interactions. Partnership funding from King Abdullah University, Saudi Arabia. PIs Molly Stevens (Imperial) and Juergen Kosel (KAUST), also with Alexandra Porter (Imperial) and Jasmeen Merzaban (KAUST). £551,542 (Imperial component).
2011: Royal Society Research Grant, Quantum dot arrays for nanoscale patterning with biomolecules, £14,764.
Beamtime awards from Diamond Light Source (SAXS) and Juelich Centre for Neutron Science (SANS), equivalent total £30,000.
Research Student Supervision
Podhorska,L, Mechanisms of micelle-templated nanoparticle synthesis