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Using physics to tackle biomedical challenges

Posted on 7 April 2016

Scientists at the University of York aim to unleash the untapped potential of the physical sciences in the search for new treatments for human infection and inflammatory diseases.

Biophysics of immunity and infection; from single molecule imaging (left), bacterial pathogen membrane dynamics (middle) to inflammatory immune cell (neutrophil) migration in response to pathogen infection (left). Credit: Christoph Baumann, Mark Leake, Mark Coles

Researchers from the University’s Departments of Physics, Biology and Electronics and Hull York Medical School (HYMS) plan to to harness biophysical immunology as a key element of the progression from basic discovery science to the development of novel therapies.

The University has won a Medical Research Council Discovery Award of nearly £700,000 to enhance the integrated understanding of how biophysical processes regulate immune function.

The researchers will carry out a range of projects focused on developing tools and technologies to quantify molecular interactions at the host-pathogen interface and studying the impact of chemical changes in tissue level immunity.

They will work to develop novel nano-photonic tools, carry out single-molecule imaging of pathogen surface proteins and membranes and map and quantify signalling protein gradients and dynamics.

Dr Mark Coles, of the Department of Biology and HYMS, said: “We shall exploit our excellence in interdisciplinary and interdepartmental research, mobilising investigators from Physics, Biology, Electronics and HYMS to tackle key questions related to host-pathogen interactions and tissue level immunity.

“Our aim is to develop a world-leading centre of excellence in biophysical immunology, bringing together nano-photonics, modelling, structural biology, membrane biophysics, with pathogen biology and immune function; and translate these outcomes into novel methods and technologies for therapeutic development and disease monitoring.”

Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research at York, Professor Deborah Smith, added: “Having invested significantly in the fields of immunology and infection and in biophysical technologies, we now seek to align these fields to generate critical mass in the exciting and emerging area of ‘biophysical immunology’.”

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