2016: Dr Jenny Malmström, University of Auckland, School of Chemical Sciences, has been awarded a Rutherford Discovery Fellowship for research entitled: 'Signals to cells when and where they are needed'.
Dr Jenny Malmström joined the Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering at the University of Auckland as a lecturer in 2016. She is also an associate investigator of the MacDiarmid Institute and an investigator in the MBIE funded Biocide toolbox project. She received her MSc in Bioengineering from Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden (2004) and a Ph.D. in Nanoscience from the University of Aarhus, Denmark (2010). Her PhD project studied cell adhesion to protein nano-patterns and was supervised by Assoc. Prof. Duncan Sutherland. From Denmark she moved to Auckland, where she joined the School of Chemical Sciences (UoA) as a post-doctoral research fellow. Dr Malmström’s interdisciplinary research is concentrating on characterising and understanding material-biomolecule interactions and the influence of surface properties that underpin cellular behaviour at surfaces. This detailed understanding can be applied to emerging and exciting areas such as the creation of smart materials to help understand and control cellular behaviour.
Stem cells refer to biological cells with the ability to renew themselves and the potential to develop into various specialised cells with a particular biological function – a process termed differentiation. For this reason, stem cells have a tremendous potential for medical therapies, but it is necessary to better understand the signals that direct their development before this potential can be fully utilised. Before use in patients, stem cells must be multiplied and often need to be differentiated, to ensure sufficient number of cells. In our bodies, the environment around cells is vastly different to that in a cell culture dish. Cellular behaviour is tightly regulated through many coupled factors, including signalling molecules and mechanical properties of the surrounding tissue.
In this research programme, Dr Malmström will develop novel techniques that she can use to tease out the individual contribution of some of these factors. In particular, she will develop an “artificial tissue surface” with the ability to release specialised stem cell “growth factors”. The surface will be constructed in such a way that cells will have to physically stick to the surface (a process termed adhesion), in order to gain access to the growth factor. This mimics the behaviour in the body, where cells have to release these potent molecules by pulling on, or degrading their surroundings. As growth factors have been shown to act close to cell adhesion points, this mode of presentation is expected to reveal synergistic effects between cell adhesion force and growth factor signalling. By studying cells in the laboratory, it is therefore possible for Dr Malmström to separate these effects to better understand the individual and combined contributions of growth factors and cell adhesion to certain cellular behaviours.