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Cellular and developmental systems

This domain is concerned with processes that are fundamental to our understanding of life.

We seek to understand how basic cell and developmental biology processes such as cell differentiation, cell division and cell movements are achieved.

We also look at how they are affected by cell-cell signalling and cell matrix interactions (Wellcome Trust Centre for Cell-Matrix Research), and how they are coordinated in space and time to make and maintain a complex multicellular organism.

In most, if not all cases, disease is caused by cellular dysfunction. Consequently, our ability to treat disease has, and will continue to be, greatly enhanced by understanding how alterations affect cells, their behaviour and their interactions. 

Investigating the fundamental mechanisms underlying normal cell function and development offers a route to understand how their failure can lead to disease and to discover novel therapeutic strategies for regeneration. 

Similarly, the study of the cellular basis of human disease can provide fundamental insights into the principles of cellular and developmental systems.

Research strengths

Within the domain we have identified the following areas of research strength.

Biological timing

Biological timing is a central feature of all living organisms. Cells and tissues must be able to measure time and respond appropriately to dynamic internal and external cues across vast temporal and spatial scales.

Disruptions to temporal control mechanisms have been linked to many diseases, including cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, inflammatory conditions, neurodegeneration, mental health, and even cancer. This means it is critical for us to understand the role of biological timing in normal physiology and disease.

Discover more.

Cell matrix biology

Matrix is essential for multicellular life. It surrounds and supports cells and accounts for 70% of our body mass. By understanding the physical, chemical, and temporal crosstalk between cells and matrix we will:

  • generate profound insights into the mechanisms that underpin tissue assembly and function, vertebrate development, and healthy ageing;
  • identify why tissue failure is a major factor in many chronic diseases; 
  • identify targets for disease intervention. 

Discover more at our Wellcome Trust Centre for Cell-Matrix Research.

Development and disease

A fundamental knowledge of how cell identity, behaviour and function are precisely controlled in the complex three-dimensional environment of a developing embryo is critical to understanding how functional tissues form and how wound healing and tissue regeneration is achieved.

We study cell behaviours that drive key developmental processes, the regulation of gene expression during development and differentiation in vivo and how these can be used to model and understand human disease conditions.

Gene expression, chromatin and signalling

Changes in gene expression underlie development, disease and evolution. Gene expression is a complex and dynamic process, controlled by a variety of signals across space and time, giving rise to intricate and changing expression patterns.

Our overall aim is to understand the molecular basis to these events and their significance in the context of organismal homeostasis, development and disease. We are studying how gene transcription is initiated and terminated, and how post-transcriptional mechanisms impact on this.

Membrane and cytoskeleton dynamics

Virtually all cellular functions – including cell division, cell migration, intracellular trafficking, adhesion, and signalling – are dependent on cytoskeletal and membrane dynamics. This means the machineries regulating the cytoskeleton and membranes are closely linked to numerous diseases including developmental disorders, cancer and neurodegeneration.

Regenerative medicine

Regenerative medicine builds upon our understanding of the basic mechanisms in cell and developmental biology with the ultimate aim of translating this knowledge to improve the repair, replacement or regeneration of damaged tissues and organs.

Discover more at the Manchester Regenerative Medicine Network.