My research focuses on the mathematical modelling of biological systems. I joined the University of Surrey as a Lecturer in Mathematics in January 2012. Prior to this I spent four years at Heidelberg University as a postdoctoral fellow, and three and a half years as a postdoctoral researcher at Oxford University. I completed my doctoral research in fluid dynamics in 2004 at the University of Oxford, where I read mathematics as an undergraduate.
Areas of specialism
University roles and responsibilities
- Admissions Tutor
Affiliations and memberships
I am interested in using mathematical and computational approaches to solve a broad range of problems in developmental biology, tissue morphogenesis and cancer modelling. A particular research focus is on the cell as a physical object, incorporating an understanding of the role of mechanical forces into models of biological processes. I draw on a diverse range of concepts in pursuing this research ranging from population modelling to the theories of fluid dynamics and elasticity theory. Currently ongoing projects include work on tissue self-organization, mechanical regulation of growth and cellular contractility.
PhD - Kieran Boniface, Oct. 2019 - present, Mathematical models for tissue growth and development with applications to organoids and tissue eningeering
PhD - Josephine Solowiej-Wedderburn, Oct. 2017 - present, Mechanical models of cell-substrate interactions
PhD- Adam Nasim, Jan. 2018 - present, Mathematical modelling of pharmacological approaches to cancer treatment (collaboration with Dr James Yates, AstraZeneca)
MMath - Robert Dymott, Importance of interstitial fluid flow in tumour growth
Euan Littlejohns, PhD, University of Surrey (2014 -18), Continuum Elasticity Models for Tissue Growth and Mechanotransduction
Philip Murray, DPhil, University of Oxford (2004-8): From discrete to continuum models of tumour growth, co-supervisors: Prof. P. K. Maini and Dr M.J. Tindall. now Lecturer, Division of Mathematics, University of Dundee
Matthew Johnston, DPhil,University of Oxford (2004-8): Mathematical modelling of cell population dynamics in the colonic crypt, co-supervisors: Prof. P.K. Maini and Prof. S.J. Chapman
Postgraduate research supervision
Kieran Boniface, PhD, Oct. 2019 - present, Mathematical models for tissue growth and development with applications to organoids and tissue eningeering
Josephine Solowiej-Wedderburn, PhD, Oct. 2017 - present, Mechanical models of cell-substrate interactions
Adam Nasim, PhD, Jan. 2018 - present, Mathematical modelling of pharmacological approaches to cancer treatment (collaboration with Dr James Yates, AstraZeneca)
I am lecturing this year on
MATM040 - Mathematical Biology and Physiology
MAT2050 - Inviscid Fluid Dynamics
It is known that cells grown in 3D are more tolerant to drug treatment than those grown in dispersion but the mechanism for this is still not clear; cells grown in 3D have opportunities to develop inter-cell communication, but are also closely packed which may impede diffusion. In this study we examine methods for dielectrophoresis-based cell aggregation of both suspension and adherent cell lines and compare the effect of various drugs on cells grown in 3D and 2D. Comparing viability of pharmacological interventions on 3D cell clusters against both suspension cells and adherent cells grown in monolayer, as well as against a unicellular organism with no propensity for intracellular communication, we suggest that 3D aggregates of adherent cells, compared to suspension cells, show a substantially different drug response to cells grown in monolayer, which increases as the IC50 is approached. Further, a mathematical model of the system for each agent demonstrates that changes to drug response are due to inherent changes in the system of adherent cells from the 2D to 3D state. Finally, differences within electrophysiological membrane properties of the adherent cell type suggest this parameter plays an important role in the differences found in the 3D drug response.
There is increasing experimental interest in mechanotransduction in multi-cellular tissues as opposed to single cells. This is driven by a growing awareness of the importance of physiologically relevant three-dimensional culture and of cell-cell and cell-gel interactions in directing growth and development. The paradigm biophysical technique for investigating tissue level mechanobiology in this context is to grow model tissues in artificial gels with well-defined mechanical properties. These studies often indicate that the sti↵ness of the encapsulating gel can significantly alter cellular behaviours. We demonstrate here potential mechanisms linking tissue growth with sti↵ness-mediated mechanotransduction. We show how tissue growth in gel systems generates points at which there is a significant qualitative change in the cellular stress and strain experienced. We show analytically how these potential switching points depend on the mechanical properties of the constraining gel and predict when they will occur. Significantly, we identify distinct mechanisms that act separately in each of the stress and strain fields at di↵erent times. These observations suggest growth as a potential physical mechanism coupling gel sti↵ness with cellular mechanotransduction in three-dimensional tissues. We additionally show that non-proliferating areas, in the case that the constraining gel is soft compared with the tissue, will expand and contract passively as a result of growth. Central compartment size is thus seen to not be a reliable indicator on its own for growth initiation or active behaviour.
Syncytial embryos develop through cycles of nuclear division and rearrangement within a common cytoplasm. A paradigm example is Drosophila melanogaster in which nuclei form an ordered array in the embryo surface over cell cycles 10-13. This ordering process is assumed to be essential for subsequent cellularisation. Using quantitative tissue analysis, it has previously been shown that the regrowth of actin and microtubule networks after nuclear division generates reordering forces that counteract its disordering effect (Kanesaki et al., 2011). We present here an individual-based computer simulation modelling the nuclear dynamics. In contrast to similar modelling approaches e.g. epithelial monolayers or tumour spheroids, we focus not on the spatial dependence, but rather on the time-dependence of the interaction laws. We show that appropriate phenomenological inter-nuclear force laws reproduce the experimentally observed dynamics provided that the cytoskeletal network regrows sufficiently quickly after mitosis. Then repulsive forces provided by the actin system are necessary and sufficient to regain the observed level of order in the system, after the strong disruption resulting from cytoskeletal network disassembly and spindle formation. We also observe little mixing of nuclei through cell cycles. Our study highlights the importance of the dynamics of cytoskeletal forces during this critical phase of syncytial development and emphasises the need for real-time experimental data at high temporal resolution. © 2014 Elsevier Ltd.
The ability of cells to sense and respond to the mechanical properties of their environments is fundamental to a range of cellular behaviours, with substrate stiffness increasingly being found to be a key signalling factor. Although active contractility of the cytoskeleton is clearly necessary for stiffness sensing in cells, the physical mechanisms connecting contractility with mechanosensing and molecular conformational change are not well understood. Here we present a contractility-driven mechanism for linking changes in substrate stiffness with internal conformational changes. Cellular contractility is often assumed to imply an associated compressive strain. We show, however, that where the contractility is non-uniform, localized areas of internal stretch can be generated as stiffer substrates are encountered. This suggests a physical mechanism for the stretch-activation of mechanotransductive molecules on stiffer substrates. Importantly, the areas of internal stretch occur deep within the cell and not near the cellular perimeter, which region is more traditionally associated with stiffness sensing through e.g. focal adhesions. This supports recent experimental results on whole-cell mechanically-driven mechanotransduction. Considering cellular shape we show that aspect ratio acts as an additional control parameter, so that the onset of positive strain moves to higher stiffness values in elliptical cells.
Maintenance and activation of the limited supply of primordial follicles in the ovary are important determinants of reproductive lifespan. Currently, the molecular programme that maintains the primordial phenotype and the early events associated with follicle activation are not well defined. Here we have systematically analysed these events using microscopy and detailed image analysis. Using the immature mouse ovary as a model, we demonstrate that the onset of granulosa cell (GC) proliferation results in increased packing density on the oocyte surface and consequent GC cuboidalisation. These events precede oocyte growth and nuclear translocation of FOXO3a, a transcription factor important in follicle activation. Immunolabelling of the TGF signalling mediators and transcription factors, SMAD2/3, revealed a striking expression pattern specific to GCs of small follicles. SMAD2/3 was expressed in the nuclei of primordial GCs but was mostly excluded in early growing follicles. In activated follicles, GC nuclei lacking SMAD2/3 generally expressed Ki67. These findings suggest that the first phenotypic changes during follicle activation are observed in GCs, and that TGF signalling is fundamental for regulating GC arrest and the onset of proliferation.
A two-day meeting was held by members of the UK Quantitative Systems Pharmacology Network (http://www.qsp-uk.net/) in November 2018 on the topic of Translational Challenges in Oncology. Participants from a wide range of backgrounds were invited to discuss current and emerging modelling applications in non-clinical and clinical drug development, and to identify areas for improvement. This resulting perspective explores opportunities for impactful quantitative pharmacology approaches. Four key themes arose from the presentations and discussions that were held, leading to the following recommendations: - Evaluate the predictivity and reproducibility of animal cancer models through pre-competitive collaboration - Apply mechanism of action (MoA) based mechanistic model derived from nonclinical data to clinical trial data - Apply MoA reflective models across trial data sets to more robustly quantify the natural history of disease and response to differing interventions - Quantify more robustly the dose and concentration dependence of adverse events through mathematical modelling techniques and modified trial design
A 2‐day meeting was held by members of the UK Quantitative Systems Pharmacology Network (http://www.qsp‐uk.net/) in November 2018 on the topic of Translational Challenges in Oncology. Participants from a wide range of backgrounds were invited to discuss current and emerging modeling applications in nonclinical and clinical drug development, and to identify areas for improvement. This resulting perspective explores opportunities for impactful quantitative pharmacology approaches. Four key themes arose from the presentations and discussions that were held, leading to the following recommendations: • Evaluate the predictivity and reproducibility of animal cancer models through precompetitive collaboration. • Apply mechanism of action (MoA) based mechanistic models derived from nonclinical data to clinical trial data. • Apply MoA reflective models across trial data sets to more robustly quantify the natural history of disease and response to differing interventions. • Quantify more robustly the dose and concentration dependence of adverse events through mathematical modelling techniques and modified trial design.