The Polymers & Peptides Research Group was established at The University of Manchester in 2004 by Profs. Aline F. Miller and Alberto Saiani. The group spans two departments, Department of Chemical Engineering and Analytical Science and Department of Materials and is based at the Manchester Institute of Biotechnology (MIB). 

Prof. Aline F. Miller 

Prof. Alberto Saiani

The University of Manchester

The University of Manchester

School of Engineering School of Natural Sciences

Department of Chemical Engineering 

Department of Materials

Manchester Insitutute of Biotechnology Manchester Insitutute of Biotechnology

Prof. Saiani ORCID
Prof. Saiani ORCID

Research in the Polymers & Peptides Research Group is centred around the characterisation of polymer, biopolymer and peptide materials across the length scales, both in the bulk and at fluid surfaces. In particular research focuses on the understanding of the chemical architecture - thermodynamic - structure - physical property correlations in complex systems to achieve process and product control.

Over the past 10 years the group has extended its activities into the biomedical field, in particular into the creation of 3-dimensional hydrogel scaffolds by controlling the self-assembly of proteins and de novo designed short peptides for regenerative medical applications. Understanding the self-assembly process has allowed the sophistication of these scaffolds to be enhanced via controlled introduction of functionalisation and responsiveness by conjugating the peptides to pH and temperature responsive polymers. This work led to Profs. Aline Miller and Alberto Saiani co-founding a start-up company: Manchester BIOGEL, which is dedicated to the commercialisation of the peptide hydrogel technology developed by the group.


Research Themes:

Peptides: from self assembly to functional biomaterials Papers

Our group is working towards understanding the fundamental link between building block structure, mesoscopic structure, material properties and cell response of self assembling oligopeptides. This work brings a fundamental understanding of self-assembly and gelation processes that enables effective material design. Consequently we are able to direct the morphology (e.g.: fiber size, porosity, roughness) and mechanical properties (e.g.: modulus, viscosity) of our materials and tailor them to specific application needs. In particular we are elucidating the molecular drivers for ß-sheet forming peptide self-assembly across the length scales by synthesising short peptides with different amino acid sequences to systematically examine the effect of hydrophobicity, charge distribution and amino acid size/type. We are also fully characterising the structure and properties of the functional self-assembled networks and exploring their potential for therapeutic and clinical application. 

Example of projects:

Characterising and controlling the properties of polymeric materials Papers

This research work focuses on the characterisation of polymeric materials across the length scales. In particular we are interested in understanding the chemical architecture - thermodynamic - structure - physical property correlations in complex polymeric systems with the aim to control and tailor materials properties to specific applications. This work encompasses a variety of polymeric materials including: polyurethanes elastomers, poly(methyl methacrylate) gels, polyolefin and poly(lactic-co-glycolic) acid copolymers.

Example of projects:

Understanding and exploiting protein self-assembly Papers

We are exploring the specific rules and general paradigms that govern protein self-assembly. In particular we are concentrating on how proteins un-fold, and self-assemble into fibrillar structures, and subsequently into an array of higher ordered supramolecular structures on the micro, meso and macroscopic length-scales. We are mapping out the phase behaviour of such systems to understand the influence of concentration, pH, ionic strength, temperature and presence of the denaturing agents. This has particular relevance for biopharmaceutical applications and we are also using the knowledge to design novel biomaterials for therapeutic and tissue engineering applications.

Example of projects:

Thin films at the air-water interface Papers

We are interested in understanding and manipulating molecular behaviour at the air-liquid and liquid-liquid interfaces. One avenue we are exploring focuses' on the ability of surfactants and polymers to promote, or inhibit, crystallization of small molecules. For example we are using surfactant and hydroxyl based polymers to promote ice crystallisation at the oil-water and air-water interfaces which has implications for the ice-cream industry. This work will be extended to investigate the effect of antifreeze proteins on ice crystal morphology with the aim of mimicking the way fish use macromolecules to prevent their blood freezing. The other area we are working in is trying to reduce water evaporation from for example reservoirs, from soil, or from vegetables during transit. To this end we are focussing on the organisation and mechanical behaviour of a variety of polymeric and peptidic materials at the air-water interface. In addition we are increasing the stability of our materials by cross-linking macromolecules in situ at this interface. Currently we are focussing on understanding the kinetics of the cross-linking reaction and the fundamental network structure and property relationships of dendrimer and graft macromolecules and a range of peptide surfactants.

Recent publications:

TPU nanocomposites tailored by graphene nanoplatelets: the investigation of dispersion approaches and annealing treatment on thermal and mechanical properties M. Albozahid; H.Z. Naji; Z.K. Alobad; A. SaianiPolymer Bulletin, Online (2021)

Analysis of the Foaming Window for Thermoplastic Polyurethane with Different Hard Segment Contents M. Santiago-Calvo, H. Naji, V. Bernardo, J. Martín-de León, A. Saiani, F. Villafañe, M.A. Rodriguez-Perez; Polymers, 13, 3143 (2021)

Effect of the Molecular Structure of TPU on the Cellular Structure of Nanocellular Polymers Based on PMMA/TPU Blends I. Sánchez-Calderón, V. Bernardo, M. Santiago-Calvo, H. Naji, A. Saiani, M.A. Rodriguez-Perez; Polymers, 13, 3055 (2021)

Quantitative nanomechanical properties evaluation of a family of β-sheet peptide fibres using rapid bimodal AFM J.K. Wychowaniec, J. Moffat, A. Saiani; Journal of the Mechanical Behavior of Biomedical Materials, 124, 104776 (2021)

Enhanced Mechanical, Crystallisation and Thermal Properties of Graphene Flake-filled Polyurethane Nanocomposites: The Impact of Thermal Treatment on the Resulting Microphase-separated Structure M. Albozahid, H.Z. Naji, Z.K. Alobad, A. Saiani; Journal of Polymer Research, 28, 302 (2021)

Self-Assembling Polypeptide Hydrogels as a Platform to Recapitulate the Tumor Microenvironment D. Lachowski, C. Matellan, E. Cortes, A. Saiani, A.F. Miller, A.E. del Río Hernández;  Cancers, 13, 3286 (2021)

Neutrally charged self-assembling peptide hydrogel recapitulates in vitro mechanisms of breast cancer progression H.C. Clough, M. O’Brien, X. Zhu, A.F. Miller, A. Saiani, O. Tsigkou; Materials Science & Engineering: C, 127, 112200 (2021)

Effect of OMMT reinforcement on morphology and rheology properties of polyurethane copolymer nanocomposites M. Albozahid, H.Z. Naji, Z.K. Alobad, A. Saiani; Journal of Elastomers & Plastics, 00952443211006160 (2021)

TGF-β3-loaded Graphene Oxide - Self-assembling Peptide Hybrid Hydrogels as Functional 3D Scaffolds for the Regeneration of the Nucleus Pulposus C. Ligorio, M. O’Brien, N.W. Hodson, A. Mironov, M. Iliut, A.F. Miller, A. Vijayaraghavan, J.A. Hoyland ,A. Saiani; Acta Biomaterialia, 127, 116-130 (2021)

Functionalised Peptide Hydrogel for the delivery of Cardiac Progenitor Cells K.A. Burgess, C. Frati, K. Meade, J. Gao, L. Castillo Diaz, D. Madeddu, G. Graiani, S. Cavalli, A.F. Miller, D. Oceandy, F. Quaini, A. Saiani; Materials Science & Engineering: C, 119, 111539 (2021)

The impact of graphene nanofiller loading on the morphology and rheology behaviour of highly rigid polyurethane copolymer M. Albozahid, S.A. Habeeb, N.A.I. Alhilo, A. Saiani; Materials Research Express, 7, 125304 (2020)

Modelling the 3D bioprinting process of β-sheet self-assembling peptide hydrogel scaffolds J. Chiesa, C. Ligorio, A.F. Bonatti, A. De Acutis, A.M. Smith, A. Saiani, G. Vozzi, C. De Maria; Frontiers in Medical Technology, 2, 571626 (2020)

Role of sheet-edge interactions in beta-sheet self-assembling peptide hydrogels J.K. Wychowaniec, A.M. Smith, C. Ligorio, O.O. Mykhaylyk, A.F. Miller, A. Saiani; Biomacromolecules, 21, 2285-2297 (2020)

Self-assembling peptide hydrogel matrices improve the neurotrophic potential of human adipose-derived stem cells A. Faroni, V.L. Workman, A. Saiani, A. Reid; Advanced Healthcare Materials, 8, 1900410 (2019)

Sequence-specific detection of unlabeled nucleic acid biomarkers using ‘one-pot’ 3D molecular sensor S. Yousaf, P. King, A.F. Miller, A. Saiani, D. Clarke, L. Trivoluzzi, H. Aojula, E. Bichenkova; Analytical Chemistry, 91, 10016-10025 (2019)

Graphene oxide containing self-assembling peptide hybrid hydrogels as a potential 3D injectable cell delivery platform for intervertebral disc repair applications C. Ligorio, M. Zhou, J.K. Wychowaniec, X. Zhu, C. Bartlama, A.F. Miller, A. Vijayaraghavana, J.A. Hoyland, A. Saiani; Acta Biomaterialia, 92, 92-103 (2019)  Video 1  Video 2

Tuning of hydrogel stiffness using a two-component peptide system for mammalian cell culture A. Scelsi, B. Bochicchio, A.M. Smith, V.L. Workman, L.A. Castillo-Diaz, A. Saiani, A. Pepe; Journal of Biomedical Materials Research Part A, 107, 535-544 (2019)


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