The (Cell) Matrix Reloaded
The University of Manchester’s Wellcome Trust Centre for Cell-Matrix Research has had its core grant renewed – securing infrastructure funding for the next five years.
The Centre, one of only five such Wellcome Trust-funded facilities in the UK and the only one in its field, is home to 21 independent research groups and a total of 170 scientists.
Established in 1995, the Centre is an interdisciplinary research hub whose long-term aims are to clarify the structure and function of extracellular matrices and cellular adhesion.
“The cell matrix is the material in the body in between the cells,” explained Professor Martin Humphries, Associate Dean for Research in the Faculty of Life Sciences and the Centre’s Director.
“Only two per cent of our body is made up of cells, the rest is the material that endows elastic tissue, bone tissue, ligaments and tendons with their physical and functional properties – that’s what we call the matrix.
“Our research aims to define the contribution of cell interactions with matrices to human diseases, and develop approaches for preventing and treating those diseases.
“For instance, there is currently enormous interest in developing ways to modify stem cells for treating joint diseases and brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s, but we believe it is critical to give those cells the right environment in which to live.
“Since cells are closely integrated with their surrounding matrix, when regenerating tissues it is logical to provide cells with the correct niche to help them develop in the right way. That’s where our research into the cell matrix comes in.”
“The work done here impinges on virtually all human diseases, although we have specific interests in cancer, vascular disease and osteoarthritis.
“In cancer, we are looking at the role adhesion plays in regulating tumour spread, while with osteoarthritis we are looking to replace damaged cartilage.
“The research where we’re closest to clinical trials, perhaps as soon as next year, is vascular engineering where we want to replace vessels affected by vascular disease.”
The Centre, which is based in the new, state-of-the-art Michael Smith Building, boasts one of the world’s best collection of scientists in this field; the grant, says Professor Humphries, will help facilitate their pioneering work for a further five years.
“Securing this core funding for a third time is a major accomplishment, and it will allow us to secure new equipment and to cover the salaries of key support staff,” he said.
“The core award helps provide the infrastructure necessary to carry out all of our specific project research. These projects are supported by £30 million worth of research grants, two-thirds of which are funded by the Wellcome Trust.”