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Dr James Bell

Dr James Bell

Research Associate

School of Optometry and Vision Sciences

Overview

I am a researcher working within the Structural Biophysics Group and carry out a small amount of teaching on the undergraduate and postgraduate optometry courses. 

My research is based upon elucidating the relationship between the fine structure of connective tissue and its physiological role, with a focus on the cornea. To achieve this I use techniques such as synchrotron X-ray scattering and nonlinear microscopy in conjunction with physiologically-relevant biomechanical testing to visualise the morphology of tissues over a wide range of hierarchical scales. Through an understanding of molecular-scale changes associated with disease and therapy, my ambition is to drive the development of better treatments for pathologies of connective tissue.

I am presently employed on a UK Medical Research Council Grant (S037829/1), and a major part of my work involves leading the development of the new Biomechanics Facility on the I22 beamline at Diamond Light Source (the UK synchrotron). The remit of the facility is to make mechanical testing of tissue in the beamline (thus probing the hierarchical response of tissue to load) more accessible, by providing the apparatus and scripts to perform a wide range of experiments. This facility is user-led and incorporates a network of academics with an interest in connective tissue biomechanics and/or connective tissue structure. The facility webpage can be found here, if you would like to know more about the facility I would love to hear from you.

Biography

Qualifications

2006: BSc Mathematics and Physics, Class I, University of Exeter

2010: PhD Physics, 'The relationship between the structure and mechanical properties of articular cartilage'.

Career overview

2019 - present: Research Associate, Cardiff University.

2018 - 2019: Teacher, Cardiff University.

2015 - 2018: Research Associate, Cardiff University.

2010 - 2015: Associate Research Fellow / Research Fellow, University of Exeter

Honorary appointments

2019 - present: Visiting Scientist, Diamond Light Source

2018: Visiting Lecturer, Universite Grenoble-Alpes, France.

2015 - present: Visiting Scientist, Exeter University

Honours and awards

2021: Accepted on to Cardiff Futures training scheme.

2020: Accepted on to Welsh Crucible future leaders training scheme.

2019: STEM certificate for 50 or more volunteering hours.

2016: Am J Physiol Heart Circ Physiol. work featured on journal cover.

2012: 62nd British Microcirculation Society Meeting - 2nd Joint Meeting with the American Microcirculation Society. 'Structural changes in loaded blood vessels'. Best Technology Abstract.

Speaking engagements

2020: S4SAS invited talk. "Nanomechanics of the ocular coat and the I22 biomechanics facility". Virtual conference.

2018: BioMedEng18 conference "A subfibrillar deformation mechanism in corneal collagen that affords flexibility". Imperial College London.

2017: "DIAMONDS" invited seminar. "Ocular structure and function in normal and pathological conditions". Diamond Light Source

2017: OBCS conference invited talk. 'The Hierarchical Response of Corneal Collagen to Load'. University of Southampton

2015: British Association for Surgery of the Knee Spring Conference. 'Morphological and chemical changes in human articular cartilage following RF coblation chondroplasty'. The International Centre, Telford 

2014: British Microcirculation Society Young Investigators Conference. 'Nonlinear microscopy as a probe of blood vessel micromechanics'. University of Warwick.

Committees and reviewing

School committees

  • Chair the Green Impact team
  • Environment representative on the Health and Safety committee
  • Member and "local champion" on IT committee

Reviewing

  • Regular reviewer for Acta Biomaterialia
  • Grant reviewer for 

Publications

2021

2020

2019

2018

2017

2016

2015

2014

2013

2012

2009

Overview

My research involves quantifying the mechanical properties of tissue, and relating my findings to the micro- and nano-structure. Most tissues derive their mechanical properties from collagen, which forms an extracellular matrix tailored to the tissue function through interactions with proteoglycan, elastic fibres and interstitial fluid. An excellent paper on the role of collagen in the cornea can be found here. I use techniques such as multiphoton microscopy (part of the excellent bioimaging suite within VSBL) and X-ray scattering (predominantly at Diamond Light Source, the UK synchrotron) to obtain structural information about tissue that ranges in scale from molecular all the way up to whole eyes. I combine these techniques with mechanical tests using bespoke apparatus to visualise how the structures I see respond to stress.

Tropocollagen springs

My work in the field of ocular biomechanics led to a breakthrough in the understanding of collagen mechanics in general. In this paper I showed that some collagen fibrils are able to stretch significantly under relatively small stresses, due to a spring-like straightening of their supramolecular structure. This could have profound implications for our biomechanical understanding of not just the eye, but also blood vessels, skin, and many other tissues that exhibit this spring-like architecture (see an excellent paper by Ottani et al. for an overview).

Microvascular remodelling in diabetes

I worked on a British Heart Foundation sponsored project that investigated changes in our small arteries caused by diabetes. Our small arteries (approx 100 - 400 μm in diameter) are extremely important, because they are the primary means by which our bodies control organ perfusion. I carried out a multiphoton study in healthy arteries that illustrated the different stress transfer mechanisms present that control the response to pressure changes, as well as the highly heterogeneous distribution of stress through the vessel wall. I followed this up with an article investigating the changes associated with diabetes, which found arteries less able to distend and morphologically distorted due to the presence of pathologically thick taut bundles of collagen constraining the outer edge of the vessel.

Collaboration

I am actively seeking new collaborations with biologists who have an interest in tissue structure and/or biomechanics. If you think there may be overlap between our fields please drop me a line.