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Nano-containers for cell signalling

Graphic representation of a protein cargo inside self-assembling block co-polymer (polstyrene-b-ethylene oxide). The image background is a transmission electron microscopy image of the ordered block co-polymer film

Posted: Thu, 3 Nov 2016

Human tissue has a remarkable ability to heal and renew. To achieve this, lots of different stimuli act on our cells to ensure their survival, proliferation and migration. Stem cells in particular, offer unprecedented potential for treating degenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and osteoarthritis – if they can be controlled.

Dr Jenny Malmstrom from the Department of Chemical and Material Engineering at the University of Auckland will use Marsden Fast-Start funding to study how these cells behave in artificial environments, and the specific interactions between the cells and their surroundings.

Many cell responses are controlled by complex chemicals called growth factors. In living tissue, growth factors are released in a tightly regulated response to mechanical changes in the cell environment.

In traditional laboratory studies, growth factor molecules are added to the fluid surrounding the artificially-cultured cells. This is in contrast to the situation in living tissues where the release of growth factor molecules is tightly regulated. Dr Malmstrom’s project will create a novel responsive interface to deliver growth factors to cells, mimicking what happens in living tissue.

Growth factors will be stored in tiny polymer capsules with polymer ‘lids’ that have a ‘handle’. When stimulated, structures on the cell surface will pull the handle, releasing the growth factor and ensuring delivery of the molecules when and where they are needed.

The same approach can then be applied to a range of cell types. The results of this research will have many implications for drug delivery, biocide release and cancer therapy.

J Malmstrom

Dr Jenny Malstrom, The University of Auckland


Total Funding: $300,000 (excl. GST) over 3 years

Researchers: Dr Jenny Malmstrom, Department of Chemical and Material Engineering, University of Auckland, Private Bag 92019, Victoria Street West, Auckland 1142