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Dr Emma Blain 


Research

My research interests encompass the cellular and molecular events that are involved in maintaining articular cartilage tissue homeostasis, and the mechanism/s that propagate degeneration of the tissue as observed in the pathology of osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis is a multi-factorial disease and one of the major risk factors is excessive mechanical load i.e. through sports injury, obesity. As an Academic Fellow within the Arthritis Research UK Biomechanics and Bioengineering Centre, and based in the School of Biosciences I manage the mechanical loading laboratory, where my research area is the identification of signalling pathways that mediate either anabolic or catabolic responses in connective tissues, in particular articular cartilage and intervertebral disc. More specifically, my research interests are:-

  • the role of the chondrocyte cytoskeleton (Figure 1), in particular the vimentin intermediate filaments, in sensing the application of a load on to the articular cartilage surface, and how these intracellular networks transduce these mechanical signals into a biochemical response.
Connective Tissue images

Figure 1: The cytoskeleton of primary bovine chondrocytes depicting vimentin intermediate filaments,tubulin microtubules and F-actin microfilaments cultured in high density monolayer for 7 days, as visualised using scanning confocal microscopy.

  • Understanding the mechanisms involved in cytoskeletal element dysregulation, as observed in osteoarthritic human cartilage and its relevance to tissue degeneration.
  • Investigating the involvement of the cytoskeletal elements in intervertebral disc cell mechanotransduction.
  • Delineating the role of the β-catenin canonical and non-canonical pathways in transducing mechanical signals in articular cartilage.
  • Investigating why ankle osteoarthritis only develops as a result of previous mechanical trauma.
  • Investigating mechano-regulation of microRNAs in articular cartilage.

Collectively, the aims of my research and the projects that I am involved in are to (1) determine how important the cytoskeletal elements are in transducing mechanical signals that influence cartilage chondrocyte homeostasis and (2) understand the underlying mechanisms of cartilage destruction propagated by abnormal mechanical load.

Current Funding

MRC DPFS (in collaboration with Newcastle University)
Arthritis Research UK
Dunhill Medical Trust
Orthopaedic Research UK (formerly Furlong Trust)
Kuwait Embassy Studentship
Departmental Seedcorn

Previous Funding

Arthritis Research UK
BBSRC CASE Studentship (AstraZeneca)
EPSRC Dorothy Hodgkin Studentship
SARTRE
Cardiff University Partnership Fund

Awards

2008 British Society for Matrix Biology Young Investigator Award

Affliated Staff 

Dr Yadan Zhang (MRC DPFS Research Associate)

Dr Emma Mead (Dunhill Medical Trust Research Associate)

Postgraduate Research Students

Miss Ayesha Al-Sabah (PhD student - Kuwait Embassy)

Miss Paulina Stadnik (PhD student - Cardiff University's President's Research Scholarship and Arthritis  Research UK Biomechanics and Bioengineering Centre at Cardiff)

Mr Rhys Thomas (MD student) 

Previous PhD Students (co-supervisor)

2010 Rebecca Harrison

2009 Siyuan Li

Teaching Profile

MSc Tissue Engineering: Mechanotransduction (School of Biosciences)

EN3060 - Biomaterials and Tissue Engineering: (School of Engineering)

Laboratory supervision of Biomedical Sciences and Intercalated Medicine undergraduates, MRes in Biosciences and MSc Tissue Engineering students.

Collaborations

External

Dr Martin Knight, Dr Tina Chowdhury (School of Engineering, Queen Mary University of London).

Dr John Wardale (Addenbrookes Hospital, Cambridge).

Professor Drew Rowan (Institute of Cellular Medicine, Newcastle University).

Internal

Professor Vic Duance, Dr Sophie Gilbert, Dr Ahmed Ali (School of Biosciences).

Professor Sam Evans (School of Engineering).

Dr Bronwen Evans, Dr Mari Nowell (School of Medicine). 

Mr Rhys Thomas, Mr Andy Metcalfe (Cardiff and Vale NHS Trust, University Hospital of Wales).

Committees

Committee member of the British Society for Matrix Biology

Membership of Societies

British Society for Matrix Biology

Biochemical Society

Cardiff Institute of Tissue Engineering and Repair

Funded by the Arthritis Research UK (website: http://www.arthritisresearchuk.org)