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

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

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

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

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:

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 in press (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 (2018)

RNA extraction from self-assembling peptide hydrogels to allow qPCR analysis of encapsulated cells K.A. Burgess, V.L. Workman, M.A. Elsawy, A.F. Miller, D. Oceandy, A. Saiani; PLOS ONE,13(6), e0197517 (2018)

Designing peptide / graphene hybrid hydrogels through fine tuning of molecular interactions J. Wychowaniec, M. Iliut, M. Zhou, J. Moffat, M. Elsawy, W. Pinheiro, J. Hoyland,  A. F. Miller, A. Vijayaraghavan, A. Saiani; Biomacromolecules, 9, 2731−2741 (2018)

Western blot analysis of cells encapsulated in self-assembling peptide hydrogels K. Burgess, A.F Miller, D. Oceandy, A. Saiani; BioTechniques, 63, 253–260 (2017)

Peptide hydrogels - A tissue engineering strategy for the prevention of oesophageal strictures D. Kumar, V.L. Workman, M. O’Brien, J. McLaren, L. White, K. Ragunath, F. Rose, A. Saiani, J.E. Gough; Advanced Functional Materials, 27, 1702424 (2017)

In vivo characterisation of a therapeutically relevant self-assembling 18F- labelled β-sheet forming peptide and its hydrogel using positron emission tomography O. Morris, M.A. Elsawy, M. Fairclough, K.J. Williams, A. McMahon, J. Grigg, D. Forster, A.F. Miller, A. Saiani, C. Prenant; Journal of Labelled Compounds and Radiopharmaceuticals, 60, 481–488, (2017)

Anisotropic pH-responsive hydrogels containing soft or hard rod-like particles assembled using low shear A.H. Milani, L.A. Fielding, P. Greensmith, B.R. Saunders, D.J. Adlam, A.J. Freemont, J.A. Hoyland, N.W. Hodson, M.A. Elsawy, A.F. Miller, L.P.D. Ratcliffe, O.O. Mykhaylyk, S.P. Armes; Chemistry of Materials, 29, 3100–3110 (2017)

Controlling self-assembling peptide hydrogel properties through network topology J. Gao, C. Tang, M. Elsawy, A.M. Smith, A.F. Miller, A. Saiani; Biomacromolecules, 18, 826-834 (2017)

Peptide hydrogel in-vitro non-inflammatory potential A. Markey, V.L. Workman, I.A. Bruce, T.J. Woolford, B. Derby, A.F. Miller, S. Cartmell, A. Saiani; Journal of Peptide Science, 23, 148-154  (2017)

3D cell bioprinting of self-assembling peptide-based hydrogels B. Raphael, T. Khalil, V.L. Workman, A.M. Smith, C.P. Brown, C. Streulli, A. Saiani, M. Domingos; Materials Letters, 190, 103-106  (2017)

Self-assembling peptide hydrogel for intervertebral disc tissue engineering S. Wan, S. Borland, S.M. Richardson, C.L.R. Merry, A. Saiani and J.E. Gough; Acta Biomaterialia, 46, 29-40 (2016)

Osteogenic differentiation of human mesenchymal stem cells promotes mineralization within a biodegradable peptide-hydrogel L.A. Castillo Diaz, M. Elsawy, A. Saiani, J.E. Gough and A.F. Miller; Journal of Tissue Engineering, 7, 2041731416649789 (2016)

A de novo self-assembling peptide hydrogel biosensor with covalently immobilised DNA-recognising motifs P.J.S. King, A. Saiani, E.V. Bichenkova and A.F. Miller; Chemical Communications, 52, 6697-6700 (2016)

Modification of β-sheet forming peptide hydrophobic face: effect on self-assembly and gelation M. Elsawy, A.M. Smith, N. Hodson, A. Squires, A.F. Miller, A. Saiani; Langmuir 32, 4917-4923 (2016)

Refinement of the Crystal Structures of Forms I and II of Isotactic Polybutene-1 and a Proposal of Phase Transition Mechanism between Them K. Tashiro, J. Hu, H. Wang, M. Hanesaka, A. Saiani; Macromolecules, 49, 1392-1404 (2016)

A modular self-assembly approach to functionalised b-sheet peptide hydrogel biomaterials P.J.S. King, M.G. Lizio, A. Booth, R.F. Collins, J.E. Gough, A.F. Miller and S.J. Webb; Soft Matter 12, 1915-1923 (2016)


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© A. Saiani                                                                                                                 last update: 06 Nov 2019



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