We are one of the largest Structural Biophysics groups in the UK. Our main focus is concerned with understanding at the molecular level the mechanical, optical and hydrodynamic properties of the cornea, sclera and crystalline lens. We also apply the techniques we develop to other areas of research such as bone, parchment, leather, etc. The group employs a ‘top down and bottom up’ approach in order to understand the macroscopic functions of biological tissues through the different hierarchical levels that modulate the properties of molecules, especially collagen.. We are particularly interested in the nanoscopic structure of the cornea since this involves the all-important intermolecular and interfibrillar interactions that can manifest themselves at the macromolecular level and lead to loss of vision. Many of the systems we study are fibrous in nature containing a degree of both crystallinity and disorder. The interplay between these states appears to be essential to tissue function and is a central part of the tissues we investigate.
Our work focuses on both normal and pathological tissues, examples of the latter being corneal transparency, cataract formation, corneal refractive surgery, wound healing, corneal diseases such as keratoconus, glaucoma, and new treatment regimes such as crosslinking, stem cell therapy and tissue engineering. We are using and developing a number of cutting edge techniques to understand the three-dimensional structures of these tissues, including 3-D electron tomography, volume microscopy and laser scanning multiphoton microscopy.
Corneal transparency is due to destructive interference of light scattered in directions other than the forward direction. This results from the regular arrangement of the collagen fibrils (green).
Corneal transparency is reduced when the arrangement of the fibrils is disordered due to constructive interference of scattered light in directins other than forward.
Laser scanning multiphoton images showing the variation in the direction of collagen fibril bundles when traversing the chick corneal stroma in a posterior to anterior direction.