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How the chemistry used to attach proteins to biomaterial surfaces influences how cells grow

Department of Chemistry

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About the Project

The use of synthetic materials as scaffolds for growing cells and tissues is a key concept in tissue engineering. Tissues grown in the lab could potentially be used to repair damage in vivo for the treatment of disease. We are interested in how we can functionalise materials with the biomolecules that nature relies on to drive and control tissue growth. In this project, we will specifically study how the chemistry used to attach proteins to biomaterial surfaces influences how cells grow. This highly interdisciplinary project will exploit a combination of synthetic chemistry, chemical biology, and mammalian cell biology to provide detailed understanding of this relationship, allowing us to design new protein-tethering chemistries with optimal properties.

i) Synthesise and study protein-biomaterial conjugates; ii) Investigate protein mobility; iii) Correlate tethering chemistry to cell fate.

Experimental approach
In the first part of this project, we will use a combination of small molecule model systems and site-specific protein modification reactions to study the kinetics of different tethering chemistries. These results will then be translated to studies of acellular protein migration through functionalised biomaterials (hydrogels and fibrous scaffolds), using fluorescence microscopy.
We will go on to investigate our tethering chemistries in the presence of growing cartilage cells. We will monitor the ability of these cells to modify and manipulate their environment, and correlate protein attachment to the fate of these cells.
These studies will be used to inform subsequent iterations of chemical design, allowing us to optimise the tethering chemistry based on our biological results.

This project will correlate protein migration on a biomaterial surface to cell fate in precise detail for the first time. This will allow us to design new materials that we can use to tune the biological signals that cells are exposed to. This work will therefore provide us with a powerful platform for precisely controlling cell fate.

The highly interdisciplinary nature of this project will provide applicants with a broad range of skills across applied and translational chemistry, placing them in an ideal position for a future career in the biomedical sciences. The student will join the Molecular Materials Group at York which brings together expertise in the chemical design of materials for next-generation technologies. The student will receive specific training in advanced organic synthesis, protein modification chemistry, and mammalian cell culture.

All Chemistry research students have access to our innovative Doctoral Training in Chemistry (iDTC): cohort-based training to support the development of scientific, transferable and employability skills:

The Department of Chemistry holds an Athena SWAN Gold Award and is committed to supporting equality and diversity for all staff and students. The Department strives to provide a working environment which allows all staff and students to contribute fully, to flourish, and to excel:

You should expect hold or expect to achieve the equivalent of at least a UK upper second class degree in Chemistry or a related subject. Please check the entry requirements for your country:

Funding Notes

This project is available to students from any country who can fund their own studies. The Department of Chemistry at the University of York is pleased to offer Wild Fund Scholarships. Applications are welcomed from those who meet the PhD entry criteria from any country outside the UK. Scholarships will be awarded on supervisor support, academic merit, country of origin, expressed financial need and departmental strategy. For further details and deadlines, please see our website:
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