Research

Currently we have several projects that are running that we are happy to provide more information about.  These include:

  • Understanding the mechanics of wounds (EPSRC funded project)

Wounds including chronic diabetic/venous ulcers, burns and surgical incisions cost the NHS £4.5-5.1 billion per year to manage. They cause significant pain and their treatment consumes huge clinical resources every year. In order to reduce the burden of wound management on both the patient and health service, we are seeking to understand wounds at a higher resolution than ever before, and to use this data to develop a non-invasive wound management sensor technology.

Our project starts by seeking to understand what actually happens in a wound – which is well established biologically, but poorly understood mechanically, especially at the micro-(sub-hair width)-scale. To address this, we will use indentation to probe skin mechanically, building up a map of its properties and how they change over time. With this fresh data on material properties of healing skin tissue, we can identify how we might be able to support tissue to heal more effectively. We will also measure the key structural component of skin – collagen – to identify the structural changes that lead to these healing changes.

The second part of this project engineers a miniature sensor that can be embedded in a bandage to non-invasively measure the changes in a wound’s properties. To achieve this, we will take the properties measured in the first part of the grant, and then tailor a sensor to send acoustic waves through the healing tissue. Measuring this wave transmission will tell us how the tissue is changing in time and whether a wound is displaying behaviour that indicates that a dressing or therapeutic approach needs to be changed.

This project combines engineering characterisation and sensor development with biological sciences in an ambitious inter-disciplinary project, addressing a major healthcare burden. Outcomes from this work will be important academic understanding and a sensing approach, which establishes technology for “smart” and remote healthcare in this clinical area. As a rsult, we envisage a pathway towards cheap, simple and non-invasive therapies that will improve the socio-economic burden of wounds.

This project is in collaboration with the lab of Dr Jenna Cash in the Centre for Inflammation Research at the University of Edinburgh’s Queens Medical Research Institute.  We are excited to have this exciting project up and running.

  • Mechanical transmission of physical changes into transcriptional responses in vertebrate skin development (BBSRC funded project)

The project aims to understand how tissue mechanical and cell signalling processes are integrated to produce repeating patterns of cell fates in embryonic development. The focus is on the skin, an organ with two  constituents: a continuous sheet of cells called the epidermis covering a looser arrangement of cells called the dermis. This type of composite
structure that involves a sheet of cells on top of a matrix containing scattered and motile cells is found in a wide range of organs, including the intestine, lung, kidney, and mammary and salivary glands. Such organs are almost invariably composed of an intricate pattern of small repeating structural elements. This proposal focuses on the repeated elements in
the avian skin, the feather follicles, while in other organs the repetition can produce a branched tree, or fingerlike projections, to attain a greater surface area. There is emerging evidence that these and other structures are formed not only from cell signalling interactions and local cell movement, but also by poorly-characterised mechanical and physical
inputs which are generated by and responded to by cells. Much of our knowledge on mechanical influences on cell behaviours comes from culture experiments performed on isolated cells, absent the context of a complex tissue environment. This project will use the rapidly developing chicken embryonic skin to define the physical differences in local tissue environment, identify how these physical differences arise and are regulated, and determine their effects on intercellular communication, fate determination and pattern formation.

This project is in collaboration (and led by) Prof Denis Headon at the Roslyn Institute, University of Edinburgh.

Other projects include

  • Developing microsensors for monitoring the body (with Prof Fiona Denison and Prof Marc Desmulliez)
  • Using tissue mechanics as a means of diagnosis – i.e. mechanical biomarkers
  • Coupling imaging methods and mechanical methods for effective minimally invasive sensing and diagnostics

We also run a variety of projects that make use of our biomedical equipment to establish an understanding different biological tissues and diseases.  This work includes undergraduate projects which are a great source of enthusiasm in our lab.+

This will be updated with details of more projects soon, but in the meantime, you can find some more details here:

https://www.hw.ac.uk/staff/uk/eps/michael-crichton.htm